Compass (02/13/06) Speakers at the Shabri Kumbh, a reawakening event organized by Hindu extremists in Dangs district, Gujarat state over the weekend, encouraged tribal Christians to reconvert and passed a resolution calling on the Indian government to enact a nationwide anti-conversion law.
At press time, however, there were no reported attacks or attempts to reconvert tribal Christians as a result of the event in part due to a heavy police and paramilitary presence in the area.
Organizers estimated that a total of 300,000 Hindus attended some part of the three-day rally, with 100,000 present on the first day.
Morari Bapu, a popular Hindu cleric from Gujarat , said in his opening speech that the objective of the rally was not to convert anyone but to revive Hinduism.
Bapu then clarified this statement by saying that the reconversion of tribal Christians was not conversion but rather a homecoming to Hinduism. Later in his speech he called on tribal Christians to reconvert to Hinduism.
Praveen Togadia, general secretary of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP or World Hindu Council) said the conversion of tribal people to Christianity was a conspiracy to abolish Hinduism, and that the VHP would not tolerate such conversions any longer.
At the same time, he noted that Hinduism is growing outside of India . If Hinduism continues to increase at its current pace in the West, Togadia said, one day even the Vatican would become Hindu.
At the close of the event on February 13, organizers passed a resolution calling on the Indian government to enact a national anti-conversion law to prevent conversions, presumably to Christianity, in tribal areas.
A Gujarati police official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the local people of Dangs were not happy about the event.
Most residents stayed in their homes and did not take part, he said. Most of the Dangs people who did go to the rally were the poorest tribals who were paid off by the organizers, who offered free food and transport.
The event was held on a six-acre stretch of land with the Shabri Mata temple (built especially for the event) on one side and a newly-created sacred spring, the Pampa Sarovar, on the other. The crowd moved continually between the two landmarks, many people believing a dip in the Sarovar would bring forgiveness of their sins.
Main meetings took place in Subri village, about 34 kilometers (21 miles) from Awah township, district headquarters of Dangs district. At these meetings, members of the VHP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) shouted slogans calling on Hindus to take up arms against Christians.
Anti-Christian literature was on display at several bookstalls near the Pampa Sarovar. Titles (translated) included Hidden Schemes of Christian Missionaries and After Dangs.
Riot police were on guard at churches and temples in the area, but most Christians remained indoors, fearing an outbreak of violence.
The Rev. Paul Jeyasingh, a key Christian leader in Gujarat , said he had visited almost all villages in the immediate vicinity of the rally and it appeared no attacks or reconversions had taken place.
When I visited the rally I noticed that most people were from outside Dangs district, Rev. Jeyasingh told Compass. They were mainly rural and illiterate people who would be easily swayed by the speakers.
Rev. Jeyasingh feared that some of the participants might stay in Dangs after the rally and attack the Christian minority, but so far no violence has been reported.