03/28/2007, 00.00
INDIA
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In Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh local politicians fight against conversions to Christianity

by Nirmala Carvalho
The rising number of conversions is worrying local authorities who accuse Christians of stealing from the poor and carrying out all sorts of vile acts. In Jharkhand there is a growing demand that Tribal converts be denied government benefits. In Andhra Pradesh campaigns of open intolerance are underway.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – Tribal leaders and politicians in the Indian state of Jharkhand have complained against what they view as an “invasion” by converts and want the state to deny them public benefits. In Andhra Pradesh public campaigns against Christian missionaries and converts are currently being organised.

In Jharkhand Tribals were lumped together with converts to religions like Christianity in the 2001 census. “But Tribals must be put under a different column to maintain their separate identity,” said a member of the Adi Dharma Parisad, a tribal body. “The country’s Tribals should be brought under one religion—Adi Dharma (or Supreme Natural Law)—so that they can get the benefits provided by state and central governments.”

Similarly, for Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Christian converts should not be included in the Tribals category and are not entitled to the benefits that belong to that group.

“There should be a separate column for Tribals' religion in the census. Converted Tribals have access to Christian missionary schools and benefit from jobs whilst real Tribals are deprived,” BJP lawmaker Chandresh Oraon said.

In Jharkhand Tribals constituted 40 per cent of the total population in 1950 but now they are about 27 per cent (2001). Christians, who were almost non existent in 1950, are now 4 per cent. 

The literacy rate among the tribal population is less than 40 percent as opposed to the state average of 54 per cent.

About 52 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, most of them Tribals.

In the southern State of Andhra Pradhesh, campaigns against the growing number of Christian converts are also being mounted.

Swami Swarupanandendra Saraswati, head of the Visakha's Sarada Peetham, said that large-scale, uncontrolled and untracked Tribal conversions to Christianity are a threat to the state. He accused the government of doing nothing.

“Just as one cannot change his mother, one cannot change his religion,” he said, urging people to chase away the “lying missionaries”.

On February 11, he formed a group whose task is to stop Hindus to convert to Christianity and bring back converts to the Hindu fold. He called on a local Andhra Jvothy newspaper to write about the pending danger of conversions.

Following an article last Sunday titled “Changing winds: New religion takes root,” many people marched on state agencies in the north-eastern part of the state to protest against Christian conversions.

In this atmosphere, Tribal and Hindu leaders claim that missionaries are attacking traditional tribal beliefs, culture and customs, importing an alien culture, cheating Tribals in order to get rich. For instance, Damavanthi Naidu, head village in Seethampet, complains that after people convert no one celebrates traditional festivities.

Some local Tribal leaders and BJP officials slam missionaries for using foreign money to get people to convert, taking advantage this way of the economic problems Tribals and poor people face.

Others like BJP district secretary Tankala Durga Rao claim that missionaries use religion as a pretext to “steal” from Tribals.

There are even some local leaders who claim that the Christian faith is responsible for many vile things like laziness, this according to Arika Kannayya, a local tribal committee leader.

But for Ma Ramana Madiga, a leader of the state-based Telugu Desam Party, people are drawn to this religion because it has no backward castes or tribes. If Hindu temples and institutions treated everyone with equal respect, the number of conversions would not be rising.

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