Minorities in India Fear Violence As Hindus Press for Conversions

Indian Minorities

Adding fuel to fire in a recent conversion row, Pravin Togadia, president of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), a right-wing organization in India, said Hindus are the ancestors of all minorities, including Muslims and Christians.

“The ancestors of Indian Muslims were Hindus. The ancestors of Christians were Hindu too. History says that many people converted to Islam due to atrocities and by the force of the swords of Moghul emperors. … At present, in this India, there is no atrocity or force on Hindus. In such a situation, if someone wants to return to the Hindu society, the Hindus should accept him wholeheartedly,” Togadia said last week at the golden jubilee celebration of VHP at Bhavnagar town in Gujarat.

Before Togadia made his statement, a controversy had already emerged in Uttar Pradesh after another right-wing group, Dharma Jagran Manch (DJM), organized a reconversion ceremony called Ghar-Wapasi (Homecoming) in Agra on December 8. At this ceremony, approximately 100 Muslim slum-dwellers with very low standards of living were converted to Hinduism through a grand ritual.

Yogi Adityanath, who is a member of parliament for the country’s leading Bhartya Janta Party (BJP), justified the event, saying it is an ongoing process and will continue to take place until every person that wants to revert to Hinduism has done so. However, on December 21, Agra police arrested Nand Kishore Balmiki, the convener of DJM in Uttar Pradesh, for his involvement in the reconversion ritual.

The parent group of DJM, Dharm Jagran Samiti (DJS) went on to say immediately after that it would ensure India becomes a Hindu rashtra (country) by 2021. Before the Ghar-Wapasi ritual was conducted in Agra earlier this month, a DJS functionary said Muslims and Christians would have to reconvert to Hinduism if they wished to continue staying in India.

“Our target is to make India a Hindu Rashtra by 2021. The Muslims and Christians don’t have any right to stay here. … So they would either be converted to Hinduism or forced to run away from here,” said Rajeshwar Singh, DJS head in Uttar Pradesh.

Singh said while the Ghar-Wapasi program planned for Aligarh and some other districts in Uttar Pradesh may have had to be suspended for the time being, they would soon be resumed. He speculated another reconversion ritual in February 2015.

“I belong to the Solanki sub-caste within the Rajput caste. The Thakurs (Rajputs) respect me. I am their leader and they follow my orders. … The Muslims had converted Rajputs to Islam by force. But the Rajputs are rising again. … I will ensure that India is freed of Muslims and Christians by December 31, 2021,” Singh said.

He also reiterated that in Etah, his group would ensure Hindus are not converted by Muslims or Christians.

“We will not let them hunt the Hindus. … The enemies have tried many a time in the past to finish Hinduism. But every time, Ram, Krishna and Chanakya came forward to finish them and restore the glory of Hinduism. … I am also doing the same,” he said.

Explaining DJS’ reconversion plans, VHP secretary general Champat Rai said, in his opinion only a handful of India’s population are Muslims.

“Others within the Muslim community are actually Hindus. Their ancestors were converted to Islam forcefully. … Even writer Taslima Nasrin has said that her ancestors were Hindus. The Batts, who are Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir, are actually Bhatts, the Hindus.”

Rai also shed light on VHP’s Ghar-Wapasi program, which according to him has been going on for six long decades. Apparently, a decision about the program was reached during the 1966 Maha Kumbh Mela in Allahabad.

“We have re-inducted over six lakh people into Hinduism since 1966… Mahatma Gandhi, Savarkar and Swami Dayanand Saraswati had expressed their concern over religious conversion. … They believed it was poisoning society. Bringing them back to their original religion means correcting the wrong. … It is the appropriate time now to take it up on a bigger scale,” said Rai.

A spokesperson from another radical outfit, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), told the media they have created committees in every district of Uttar Pradesh to carry out reconversion ceremonies.

“We have included some Arya Samaj priests in the team because they issue a certificate to a converted person. … This is a major document to prove that the converted person agrees to it,” he said.

When asked about Modi’s stand on the matter, the spokesperson clarified that the right-wing groups under BJP do not necessarily consult people at the helm before chalking out their strategies for the grassroots people.

“We only expect them to speak for or against us to clarify their stand. But Modi is the Prime Minister. So his silence means his approval. It is the right time for us to fulfill our agenda,” he said.

Azam Khan, who is a cabinet minister in the government of Uttar Pradesh, said RSS has started to behave like the Taliban, as they continue to show more disregard for the Constitution of India that ever before.

“They have their own agenda of finishing humanism,” he said.

In actuality, the trouble kicked off a couple of months ago, when a group of Hindu radicals stormed into a village, where some Hindu families had been converted to Christianity more than 10 years ago. Within a few hours, the radicals organized a fire purification ceremony for the villagers, destroyed a cross at the local church and pasted a picture of Shiva on its walls, saying the building would now be considered a temple. Soon after, other fundamentalist outfits started demanding permission for a reconversion ceremony to be held on Christmas Day, so they could welcome hundreds of Muslims and Christians into their own religion. As a matter of fact, a fundraising flier was circulated too for volunteers to convert, saying every Christian would be given $3,200 and every Muslim $8,000. However, nationwide protests led to the postponing of the Ghar-Wapasi program that was planned for December 25.

Mohit Agarwal, senior police official in Aligarh, said strict action would be taken against those who organize a reconversion ceremony on December 25, since they would be doing so despite being refused permission.

“No event will be allowed on 25 December, whether it is conversion or anything similar to it,” he said.

That is when Singh said his organization would ensure no baptisms take place on that day either.

Agarwal went on to explain even though conversions are legal without the involvement of fraud, force or inducement, the Muslim families in Agra that were made to convert to Hinduism earlier this month did not do so out of their own will. Reportedly, they were lied to about the ceremony being used to convert them and promised food ration cards if they agreed to attend the event.

Christians in Uttar Pradesh have expressed distress over the current situation. Their fears echo those of other religious minorities as well, all of whom fear in majority-Hindu India, there will soon be a rise of religious intolerance, even more so considering the recent advent of a conservative government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is a fervent Hindu nationalist himself. As a matter of fact, Modi’s record of religious intolerance led the United States to revoke his visa even on the grounds that he had encouraged extreme violations of religious freedom by refusing to step in as chief minister when the infamous Hindu-Muslim riots of 2002 took place in Gujarat.

Building up to December’s non-secular agitations, some carolers in Hyderabad were beaten up, while a case of arson was suspected after a church in New Delhi was set on fire.  After foreign minister Sushma Swaraj suggested the Hindu text Bhagvad Gita be made India’s national scripture earlier this year, for several days this month, the country’s secular parliament lapsed into chaos repeatedly, as members demanded an explanation from Modi about the ongoing religious reconversions. They also attempted to defend Christmas Day as a gazetted holiday amidst BJP’s proposal to designate

December 25 as Good Governance Day, when schools would be expected to stay open and make their students debate over topics related to governance instead of allowing them to stay at home and celebrate Christmas with family and friends.

Christians, who constitute a little more than 2 percent of India’s 1.2 billion population, have seemingly been targeted lesser number of times than their Muslim counterparts. However, Christian missionaries, who have been visiting India for at least a few centuries claim to have faced resistance from Hindu devotees, who largely believe the former use charitable work as a mask for proselytizing to people of the lowest strata and promising them a better life.

John Dayal, former president of the All India Catholic Union and a member of the government’s National Integration Council, said RSS volunteers, who are called pracharaks, now have support at the topmost level and thus feel empowered to act more freely than they have in previous years.

“The Christian community is clearly concerned. We are actually scared,” Dayal said. “They are acting with impunity, and the government has done little to stop them.”

Photo Credits: India Tomorrow

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