INDIA – Hindus make false ‘reconversion’ claims

Posted on November 18, 2007. Filed under: Documentary Films in Chhattisgarh |

Documentary shows Dalits never were Christians

A Christian group has made a documentary film showing evidence that Hindu nationalists made false claims about bringing Christian converts back to the Hindu fold.

The Hindi-language daily Punjab Kesari reported on 22 March that four Dalit Christian families in Balmiki Basti of Nahan town in Himachal Pradesh state’s Sirmaur district had “reconverted” to Hinduism.

But the documentary by a fact-finding team of the All India Christian Council (AICC), in association with the United Christian Forum of Nahan, reveals that none of the members of these Dalit families had ever converted to Christianity and that they were tricked into signing forms saying they wished to reconvert to Hinduism.

The reconversion claims were reportedly made by Tarsem Bharti, president of the Himachal Pradesh unit of the All India Scheduled Caste (Dalit) and Scheduled Tribe (aboriginal) Federation (AISCSTM), said the Rev Madhu Chandra, an AICC secretary.

The AISCSTM is allegedly linked to the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), political wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

Bharti, a member of the state BJP, allegedly managed to take the signatures of a few members of the four Dalit families and submitted the papers to the office of the district collector (administrative head) of Sirmaur declaring their “reconversions,” Rev Chandra added.

Dalit testimonies

The film, titled “Fraud & Fraudulent Reconversions by Hindutva,” carries testimonies of the Dalit families, who have submitted their complaint to the district authorities regarding the use of fraudulent means to falsely declare them as “reconverts”.

A joint statement by the four Dalit families drafted before production of the film is shown in the documentary:

“We never converted to Christianity any time and nor did anyone come to convert us to Christianity. No allurement was offered to us either.”

In the statement, the families say they do not know who Tarsem Bharti is.

“But, a person from our own village, Rajendra, son of late Atam Ram, resident of Balmiki Basti, Nahan was among the [AISCSTM] team that visited us.

“They offered to give us land, jobs, money for children’s education and a loan. Then they took us to Nahan District Collector’s office.

“They spoke in English. We do not know English and nor did they interpret what they spoke to the authorities.”

Appealing to the district authorities to take legal action against Bharti and others, the families lamented that false information was given to the newspaper as well as district officials regarding their alleged reconversion.

Bharti’s team reportedly arrived in Nahan town on 21 March during the day, when the men of the families had gone to work, and urged the women to come to the collector’s office to get money for children’s education, land and loan.

One of the women told the AICC fact-finding team that the local Hindu nationalist, Rajendra, promised to educate her children up to class 10, as well as give a loan and land.

“We trusted him and went with them [the team] to the district collector. … We felt very hurt. We were betrayed.”

Other women too shared their anger on the tactics allegedly used by the Hindu nationalists.

Political motives

On 28 February, Bharti had organised a religious ritual to “reconvert” 151 Dalit Christians in the Arya Samaj temple in Shimla, the state capital.

The state unit of the AICC had asserted that most of those shown as “reconverted” were not Christians in the first place.

AICC’s Rev Chandra said Bharti’s intention behind the “reconversion” events was to get a political advantage, as he is an aspiring candidate for the state assembly elections next year.

Parties in Himachal Pradesh seemingly believe that the issue of Christian conversion can potentially divide voters along the religious lines.

On 30 December 2006, the Congress Party-ruled state government passed an anti-conversion bill in the assembly yet exempted “reconversions” from its scope.

The bill became law on 20 February after the state governor signed it, but it is still awaiting implementation rules.

Earlier claims

Hindu nationalists have claimed “reconversion” of Christian converts on a regular basis for more than a decade to support their allegation that missionaries convert poor and illiterate Hindus, mainly Dalits, and tribal people using force and allurement.

In 1999, Dilip Singh Judeo, a parliamentarian from the BJP whose name is associated with the “reconversion” movement mainly in Chhattisgarh state, claimed that he had reconverted at least 165,000 Christians in several tribal areas, according to monthly magazine Communalism Combat (March 1999).

Similarly, a report in the Pioneer newspaper on 18 December said that around 2,300 people were reconverted to Hinduism in 2006.

Subsequent reports, however, have suggested that most of these claims are false.

The Communalism Combat of March 1999 pointed out that Judeo claimed reconversion of a large number of Christians in the Dindori area of Madhya Pradesh in February 1999, but that most of these people had never been Christians.

In a recent example, four members of a tribal Muslim family complained they were forced by BJP legislator Renuka Singh to return to Hinduism in a ceremony held on 3 October 2006, in Surajpur, Sarguja district, Chhattisgarh state.

Following the complaint, the Chhattisgarh High Court directed the state administration to ensure that the family was not pressured to adopt Hindu religion, reported the Milli Gazette fortnightly (16–30 November 2006).

The publication quoted 23-year old Nur-ul-Islam as saying that the BJP’s Singh, along with her 2,000 supporters, stormed his house and forced him to re-convert from Islam by conducting a ceremony.

“My head was tonsured and my beard was shaved off by her supporters,” he said.

In another incident, the Hindu Jagran Manch (Hindu Revival Front) claimed it reconverted 700 Christians on 2 April 2005, in Dhamtari district of Chhattisgarh.

But Pastor A David, president of Dhamtari Christian Fellowship, said those “re-converted” in the function were actually Hindus who may have attended a Christian meeting once or twice.

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