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Compass (02/14/06) – Christianity is a major threat to Indian nationalism, organizers of a “reconversion” rally held last weekend in Gujarat indicated yesterday during the closing ceremony.

Organizers of the Shabri Kumbh led the 60,000-strong crowd to repeat, “I will save my religion … I will save my community from fraudulent conversions … I will save those who have fallen prey to allurement tactics of the enemy of our country to reconvert to Hinduism.” The throng often shouted, “Jai Shri Ram (Praise be to the god Rama).”

The assembly resolved to save the Hindu religion and Bharat Mata (Mother India goddess) by reconverting Christians.

Sadhvi Ritambhara, a popular Hindu preacher whose programs are aired on several TV channels, said, “They [Christians] call us harvest. They intend to pluck us out. And foreigners want to do this to us.”

Ritambhara said it was imperative for Hindus to take up arms to save their religion.

“It is our own people who help foreigners to succeed in their schemes,” she said. “And they convert tribal people in the garb of education and social service.”

She also alleged that missionaries convert poor tribal people by using deception, such as immersing in water both a stone idol of Rama and a wooden cross, then saying that Rama drowned but Christ did not.

“But we believe in test by fire – set fire to both the idol of Rama and the cross, and you will see that the cross will burn down, but Rama will stay,” she said.

Ritambhara encouraged the gathering to mobilize friends to stand against the enemy and continue to work till the whole country was “saffronized.” The saffron-colored flag of the extremist group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is a symbol of Hindutva nationalist ideology.

Finally, Ratumbha said that those who did not love the country should not be allowed to live in it.

Shankaracharya Vasunandan, chief guest at the function, said that “foreign forces” could be defeated only if Hindus were united and revived.

“Conversion is a great challenge and threat to the nation,” Vasunandan said, even claiming the Christian church was behind Naxal, a violent group whose roots are actually based in communism. He also reiterated the common assumption that all Indians were originally Hindus.

Vasunandan encouraged the crowd to help stop conversions and quickly reconvert Christians. “Dedicate your mind, body, and money for this cause,” he said.

He also said that the event would not end with Monday’s ceremony. “Many more such programs will be organized in different parts of the country,” he said.

The organizers honored various Hindus who have reconverted people to Hinduism: Shani Ram Ji Maharaj for reconversion of Christians in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, and Sindhu Tai for her orphanage in Maharashtra state, which leaders said prevented 1,000 children from converting to Christianity.

“We will not tolerate the coming of foreign missionaries to our country,” Tai said.

Anti-conversion posters adorned the kumbh stage, whose backdrop consisted of a huge picture of the god Rama killing the demon Ravana.

“Conversions are taking place at an alarming pace,” one poster warned, attributing the quote to Swami Vishweshwar Tirth Maharaj. “If we do not solve this problem, Hinduism will be abolished.”

Another poster, quoting Padambhooshan Rani Mai Dintyu, warned, “Every other day we hear in Christian newsletters that India is the mission field of Western nations, and they will convert India into a Christian nation.”

Hindus account for about 80 percent of India ’s 1.1 billion people, and Christians less than 3 percent. Christians, however, make up about 15 percent of the Dangs district population.

A number of Hindu sadhus, or leaders, also took part in a summit during the kumbh, in which they passed a resolution demanding that the central government take serious note of conversion issues in tribal areas and enact laws to prevent them. The resolution was read to participants at the event.

The resolution stated that in the absence of any central or national law, state governments should enact their own laws to “save the tribal population.”

The leaders also claimed that anti-conversion laws formed by the state governments of Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Gujarat and Orissa have proved ineffective because of loopholes.

SIDEBAR

A Christian Voice in the Darkness: Father Cedric Prakash

On the second day of the kumbh, Nirmala Carvalho interviewed Jesuit Father Cedric Prakash, official spokesman of the Gujarat United Christian Forum for Human Rights, an ecumenical body that defends the rights of both Catholics and Protestants.

Q. What was the climate like in Dangs when the Shabri Kumbh began?

A. Subir village [EDITORS: Corrects previous “Subri” village], where the kumbh was held, was transformed into a virtual fortress with almost 5,000 policemen on duty in case of any violence. In his opening speeches, Gujarat Chief Minister Narenddra Modi added his voice to those of the religious leaders, saying the time had come for converted tribals to go back to Hinduism. Modi and the other leaders said conversion would not be tolerated. Modi in particular targeted Christian missionaries, saying medical services were an allurement to convert poor and illiterate tribals.

We also noticed that most of the people attending were brought in by the truckload from [neighboring states] Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.

Q. What do you think will happen after the kumbh?

A. When the kumbh comes to an end, they may declare Dangs as a Hindu state – they have already declared many parts of the western side of Ahmedabad as a Hindu state. Then they will launch their campaign against conversions. This meeting is only the beginning.

In November 2005 the RSS decided not to target any region in the state of Gujarat . They targeted Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Maharashtra, but not Gujarat – they wanted to soft-pedal things there to avoid negative publicity before the kumbh. Once the media glare dies down and security is withdrawn – then we expect the real trouble to begin.

Q. You have spoken out publicly against anti-conversion laws. Can you give us a brief summary of your objections?

A. Gujarat state passed the Freedom of Religion Act in March 2003. Three years down the line they have still not framed the rules and regulations that govern the implementation of the act. For example, if I want to change my religion I need to get permission of the civil authorities. But at the moment, the civil authority does not know on what grounds he or she can give me permission. This leaves the system open to abuse.

It is hard to prove claims of fraudulent or forced conversion. Why has Modi not been able to prove a single forced conversion in Gujarat ? He has no answer for that. But he still talks of his constitutional duty to prevent forced conversions.