The Hindu Jagran Manch activist group has claimed that hundreds of Christians were "reconverted" in a ceremony on 2 April 2005.
As many as 700 people were 'reconverted' to Hinduism under the ghar vapsi (homecoming) programme organised by the Hindu Jagran Manch (HJM) in Dhamtari district of Chhattisgarh.
Former Union minister and senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Dilip Singh Judeo washed the feet of the 700 people from 125 families, symbolically reconverting them from Christianity at a function in Gopalpuri village.
The Manch, also known as the Dharam Jagran Manch (DJM), announced their plans for the ceremony several days before it took place. They claimed 700 people took part in the ceremony. However, according to reports in the media, only 97 were reconverted. The reports also said the men and women were given traditional Indian clothing and coconuts for use in Hindu worship.
The reports said Dilip Singh Judeo threatened Christian workers during his address at the ceremony. "If Christian missionaries don't stop converting people, we will take up arms," Singh was quoted saying.
Meanwhile, Christians in Dhamtari district said those who attended the ceremony had never really accepted Christianity, though they might have shown some interest. "These claims are false," Pastor A David, president of the Dhamtari Christian Fellowship, said. "Those who reconverted were actually Hindus who might have attended a Christian meeting once or twice."
"I appeal to the local press to interview these people and ask them when and how they accepted Christianity and who baptized them," David said. "The people of Chhattisgarh know very well that such programmes are a sham. A few years ago, The Times of India exposed how Dilip Singh Judeo called Hindus to come to his programme and later claimed their 'reconversion' from Christianity to Hinduism.
"We have written a letter of complaint to the Prime Minister, the President and the Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh, demanding protection of the Christian community," David added.
Local Christians said the DJM exaggerated the number of Christian converts in order to provoke a response from the state government, which recently announced plans to strengthen Chhattisgarh's anti-conversion law.
Pramod Singh, secretary of the Chhattisgarh branch of the Mennonite Church of India, said, "None of those who 'reconverted' [in the ceremony] had been baptized. "Christians do not indulge in conversions by force or fraudulent means," he said.
Kaviraj Lall, a member of the Christian Legal Association of India, said, "Hindu fundamentalists often threaten the poor people of Chhattisgarh with loss of livelihood and social ostracism to pressure them to reconvert to Hinduism.
Dhamtari district is a forest area, where people depend on societies formed by the state government, which give them jobs like collecting special leaves and flowers for Indian cigarettes and wine. Many government employers are biased against Christians and tell them they will lose their jobs if they don't reconvert to Hinduism," Lall explained.
In organising the homecoming ceremony, the DJM appears to have violated Chhattisgarh's Freedom of Religion Act. Under terms of the law, the organiser of such an event and prospective converts must send advance notice to the district collector.
SL Dewangan, personal assistant to the district collector of Dhamtari, said, "Some representatives of the Mennonite church had informed us that a reconversion programme was being planned. We asked the superintendent of police to investigate, but so far we have not received a report from him. Neither have we received any affidavit or intimation from the organizers of the programme." Superintendent of Police Himanshu Gupta refused to comment on whether he was notified before the re-conversion ceremony took place.