05/26/2011, 00.00
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Orissa: false accusations of conversion to oppress tribals

by Santosh Digal
Dozens of tribals arrested on false charges of trying to convert Hindu villagers. Members of the upper castes and the Hindu radicals are trying to block the battle against the caste system.

Bhubaneswar (AsiaNews) - Two Christian lawyers in Orissa have reported false allegations of conversion from Hinduism in the village of Bada Saara Sahi, near Khurda. On May 8, three men were arrested on charges of practicing forced conversions in the village. While another 55 people were arrested on 22 and 23 May in episodes related to the first event. The two lawyers, Manas Ranjan, human rights activist, and Rasmi Ranjan Jena, have conducted an investigation on the spot. Accusations of forced conversion or proselytism are often used by militant Hindu organizations against Christians, who are accused of attempting to increase their numbers through bribes, favours, and charitable aid.

The Catholic bishops have challenged these accusations many times demanding evidence of these forced conversions, but so far no facts have been presented. Campaigns against forced conversions, however, are behind many episodes of anti-Christian violence, as well as the pogrom against Christian institutions in Orissa in 2007 and 2008.

The indictment, filed by Kailash Pradhan, is as follows: those arrested, along with others, are charged with trying to convince the plaintiff and others to abandon the worship of Hindu gods and goddesses, and to embrace another, non specified, religion. All the defendants are tribal, and considered "untouchable." The two lawyers have spoken with them and other people of the village.

"There is anger on their part to the natural rule untouchability. They do not wish to be part of the Hindu religion, but at the same time said they have not converted to any religion. They try to influence other members of their community to oppose the caste system, but they will not convert anyone to another religion, "say the two lawyers.

The accused are part of an anti-caste organisation, the "Samajika Nyaya Macha", or "Manvabadi. The lawyers also spoke with a police official in Khurda, who defined the allegations of conversion as "false and frivolous" and stated that "there is no involvement of any religious group in the incident." The two lawyers conclude that the complaints come from members of the upper castes, who are opposed to the struggle of the tribals and untouchables against discrimination. But the two Christian lawyers also suggest the role played here by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS, national voluntary organization), the militant movement of the radicals be investigated.
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