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(March 7, 2006) – The Washington-DC based human rights group, International Christian Concern (ICC) www.www.persecution.org has learned that the Hindu extremist group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has claimed that more than 600 Christians, mainly Dalits and tribals, have been “reconverted” to Hinduism in the states of Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh. However, when ICC investigated the claim, it found serious discrepancies.

The March 5 issue of the Organiser, a weekly publication of the RSS, reported that about 335 Christians belonging to 55 families “returned to their original roots” at a function held at “Soharpat village of Gumla district in Bihar ” recently. The report also claimed that more than 300 Christians “returned to Hindu fold” at Bhojpur village of Etah district in Uttar Pradesh in a separate ceremony.

One of the first discrepancies ICC found in this report is in the actual geography of the supposed reconversion event. Soharpat village is situated in the eastern state of Jharkhand, and not in Bihar state as reported by the RSS weekly. Another discrepancy ICC found was that the number of people reportedly “reconverted” was grossly exaggerated. According to the local police station, only about 50 Christians were reconverted to Hinduism, not 335.

“About 50 people belonging to the Munda tribe who had converted to Christianity lately were reconverted at a function held by…an affiliate of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad [World Hindu Council or VHP], at Soharpat village, which is situated on a hill in Latehar’s Mahuadaun Block,” Inspector In-Charge of Mahuadaun police station, Mr. Dilo Lohar, told ICC.

The weekly quoted a former state minister who was present at the reconversion function as saying that the state government should put a complete ban on conversion. He claimed that the Christian missionaries were “trapping local gullible Vanavasis [tribal people] and converting them to Christianity.” Anti-conversion laws are already enforced in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Arunachal Pradesh, and Gujarat .

The reconversion program was reportedly presided over by another politician belonging to the Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), Mr. Samir Oraon, who is a Member of the state Legislative Assembly. Oraon appealed to all people of the tribal community who had “somehow adopted Christianity” to “come back to their original roots.”

The RSS report said that the worship of a mother goddess was performed by Hindu priests from 102 villages before the reconversion ceremony. “Mr. Mahirang Oraon, state organising secretary of [a radical Hindu group], welcomed them [Christians] by washing their feet. They were also offered Gangajal [water of River Ganga which is considered holy by Hindus] before the ceremony,” added the report.

The RSS claimed earlier that 128 tribal Catholic Christian families had “reconverted” to Hinduism at a function at Soharpat on January 30, 1999. However, a leading national newspaper, The Times of India, reported that the program was “shrouded in secrecy.”

“Despite providing some photographs of a reconversion ceremony to substantiate their claims, the local RSS members are not prepared to give a list of the reconverted Christians or provide the names of their villages,” said the paper.

The Times also said that it was not clear whether the tribals had reconverted to Hinduism or decided to follow their own faith of nature worship and animism. It added that the reconversions were reportedly brought about through allurements like distributing blankets and clothes.

About the RSS’s claim of reconversions at Etah district in the north-central state of Uttar Pradesh, ICC found out that even the district administration was not aware of the reconversion program. Neither the office of the District Magistrate nor that of the Superintendent of Police had any information about it.

Additional District Magistrate of Etah, Mr. Vijay Singh Pal, told ICC that he learned of the event only after reading about it in a newspaper. “I cannot verify this report,” he said.

Another affiliate of the RSS claimed that more than 300 Dalit Christians had “reconverted” to Hinduism in a function held inside a church, reported a national newspaper, The Pioneer, on February 9. The ceremony allegedly took place at the New Apostle Church , which is situated at Bhojpur village on February 8.

The 18-year-old church was transformed into a Hindu temple, claimed the Hindu group. “After the ceremony, the church was ‘purified’ by Hindu priests, the cross removed from the apex of the building and replaced by the Hindu symbol of ‘ Om ’ and idols of ‘Durga’ were placed.”

Rajeshwar Singh, a Hindu leader, reportedly said that the campaign was designed by Hindu organisations to “wipe out churches and neutralize their effect.” He said the presence of these churches was having a “serious impact” on the Dalit community.

Singh stated that the priest of the church, Vijay Masih, agreed to give away the possession of this church to the village when the Hindu leader pressured him to do so.

The RSS earlier claimed that it “reconverted” more than 1,800 Dalit Christians in Etah on October 2 last year.

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