Nationalist radicals claim reconversion of 98 Christian tribals to Hinduism

The "homecoming" program was sponsored by the VHP, an ultra-nationalist Hindu group affiliated to the government. The converts are tribal Orao and Munda. Experts show that indigenous groups professed animist religions, not Hinduism.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) - At least 98 Christians belonging to 23 tribal families have been "reconverted to Hinduism" in the Tripura (north-east of India) according to Hindu Jagran Manch, a far-right Hindu group.

The news was reported by the Hindustan Times and picked up by various Indian newspapers. The newspaper reports the affirmations of Uttam Dey, president of the local unit, who claims: "It is as if the lost family members had returned home".

The session of "ghar wapsi", an Indian term used to indicate the "return home" to Hinduism, occurred on January 20 in the district of Kailashahar, about 180 km from the capital Agartala. The Hindu Jagran Manch (VHP), a Hindu ultra-nationalist group affiliated to the central government, sponsored the mass conversion ceremony.

Praising the program in front of the reporters, Dey informs that the people who have "come back to their Hindu" are mostly workers of the tea plantations of Bihar and Jharkhand, States with very poor and tribal majority populations.

 According to the radical, they "were Hindu, but they were lured to Christianity after the closure of the Sonamukhi tea company in 2010, where they worked". He later adds that most of the reconverted belong to the Orao and Munda ethnic communities. His statements would eventually be confirmed by one of the former Christians, Birsa Munda, who states: "We are very poor people. Christians converted us. They often treat us badly. We have freely decided to reconvert ourselves to Hinduism ".

The narrative of the nationalist and the alleged confirmations of the former faithful echo the claims usually made by radicals when they accuse Christian missionaries and pastors of evangelizing the poorest sections of the population through cash rewards or offering other advantages.

Rajnath Singh, the interior minister of the Union, stressed as much last week, saying he was concerned about the mass conversions taking place in India, leaving a clear reference to the work of Christian missionaries. In reality, the accusations seem more like directing public opinion ahead of the upcoming general elections in May. In fact, experts point out that most of the conversions to Christianity occur among tribal groups that follow animist religions, not Hindus. Therefore a return to the original religions would not be justified.