Hindu fundamentalists "re-convert" more than 600 tribal Christians
The ceremony was one of the largest ever to take place in Orissa. But the Church has warned that these were no re-conversions: the tribals had never been "Hindu", and "this is only propaganda by extremist parties". Catholic activists have urged the central government to monitor states of the Union led by the BJP.
New Delhi (AsiaNews) One of the largest ever mass ceremonies of re-conversion to Hinduism took place in Orissa, eastern India, on 23 June. But Catholic Church representatives have warned this was nothing more than fundamentalist propaganda, carried out with the connivance of the local government.
During Friday's function, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad [VHP, a youth paramilitary formation of Hindu nationalists], "brought back" to Hinduism around 600 tribal Christians from Mayurbhanj district. In all, 92 families were involved. The ceremony was held on the campus of the Pandit Raghunath Murmu Memorial College in Sarat. According to the VHP central coordinator, 166 out of the 602 tribal Christians were women.
High-ranking members of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) a political party with nationalist-fundamentalist leanings in power in this state were present at the function. Heightened security measures were put in place by local authorities to prevent any incidents.
Sources within the VHP said hundreds of men, women and children lined up to receive the darshan (sight, a sort of blessing).
In an interview with AsiaNews, Mgr Lucas Kerketta, Secretary, Orissa Bishops' Regional Council, said this was merely a propaganda campaign orchestrated by young fundamentalists of the Saffron Brigade (saffron is the colour of the flag of nationalist Hinduism). He said: "In Orissa, the anti-conversion law is applicable only to conversions to Christianity, but when it comes to converting to Hinduism, police go to ceremonies and are mute spectators, becoming accomplices of Hindu extremism."
The bishop continued: "Recently, at one of their ceremonies in remote rural Orissa, insults were yelled against Christian missionaries in front of the police, who did not lift a finger."
"Tragically, the fundamentalists target tribals who originally are not even Hindu," added Mgr Kerbatta. "These tribals are extremely poor and depend entirely on the majority community for their livelihood, so they are an easy target for pressure and intimidation from those who want to force them to participate in these re-conversions."
John Dayal, President, All India Catholic Union, reacted sharply to the event. "First of all they are 'conversions' and not 're-conversions' to Hinduism," he said. "Secondly, much as I despise the anti-conversion law, it should be applied in these cases too and not only to Christian priests. It is evident that these regional laws of the BJP represent a threat not only to India's secular traditions but also for its federal structure." He ended with an appeal: "I invite the central government to take steps to curb the manner in which the BJP is ruling states like Orissa, Rajasthan and Chattisgarh or else they will face serious fractures in national democracy."