Sunday, February 20, 2005

Thousands of Dalit Christians "Reconverted" to Hinduism in India,Hindu Group says

Saturday, 19 February 2005
NEW DELHI, INDIA (BosNewsLife)-- Indian Church officials on Saturday, February 19, dismissed reports that a militant Hindugroup "reconverted" thousands of India's most impoverished Christiansback to Hinduism, as an attempt "to instigate" religious tensions.
The World Hindu Council, known locally as Vishwa Hindu Parishad(VHP), said its followers were responsible for the "reconversion" ofup to 5000 'Dalit' Christians from 14 churches in two key districtsof the central Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, local media reported.The churches were transferred into Hindu schools for Dalit childrenand former Catholic priests became teachers after they changed theircross tattoo for a Hindu sign, news reports said.
Krishna Prabhakar Upadhyaya, district editor of a regional Hindidaily, told BosNewsLife he obtained a list of "a total of 4096 Christians" who he claimed "reconverted" during a Hindu-ceremony lastSunday, February 13. The event reportedly took place after VHP-activists spread out to 26 villages of the Etah and Firozabad districts of Uttar Pradesh.
However "the VHP's claims about the reconversions" of Dalits "arefalse," a Catholic priest from the Archdiocese of Agra in troubled Uttar Pradesh told BosNewsLife on condition of anonymity. "They [theVHP] are merely doing this to instigate tensions between Hindus andChristians. We should ignore such incidents," he said.
Father J. Logo of the regional Bishop House claimed he had not heard of the incident. "We have no information about the reconversions [ofDalits], it might be a rumor," he added.The term Dalit refers to the estimated 240 million "Untouchables" orthe "Outcastes" in the subcontinent of India, who have traditionallyoccupied the lowest place in the complicated caste system ofHinduism. Human rights groups call them "a people broken, forgottenand exploited," as many of them work in the fields or carry out slavework for the much richer men and women of the "higher caste."
There has been a growing Christian movement among the mainly Hindu Dalits, and militants are known to have attacked churches and Christians, human rights watchdogs say. Local authorities ordered aninquiry into the alleged February mass conversions to see if Dalits were forced to accept the Hindu religion, India's national dailyTribune reported. The VHP has denied that it used forceto "reconvert" Dalit Christians.
"The Dalit Christians are disillusioned with Christianity," after they gave up their "Hindu heritage" the Pioneer newspaper quoted VHP Secretary Mohan Joshi as saying. He reportedly said that theDalit "Christians had been misled by Christian missionaries intoaccepting Christianity through lucrative offers of financial securityand social equality."Christians comprise less than one percent of the over 166 million population of Uttar Pradesh, according to estimates.
The latest tensions came just days after India's Supreme Court decided to study the legal implications of denying job, education quotas and socialbenefits to Dalit Christians. Under a quota system at least 15 percent of jobs and educational placements have been reserved for members of lower castes includingDalit Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs, but Dalit Christians and Muslimswere excluded.
"We hope that the Supreme Court will soon finally end a historic injustice that was done in 1950 to the Dalits professing the Christian Faith," said John Dayal, president of the All IndiaCatholic Union. "Whenever the Supreme Court gives its final judgment recognizing the cruel and debilitating inequities and injuries of the3,000 year old caste system" it will "cross all boundaries of religion, region and ethnicity in India..." he added in a statement received by BosNewsLife.