Subir (Dangs), February 12, 2006
Confirming the apprehensions of Christian and human rights organisations, the first-ever 'Shabari Kumbh' began with a tirade against alleged conversions of tribals in the district. Speeches of organisers, religious leaders and the chief minister left no one in doubt that the real purpose of the congregation is to kick start a campaign against conversions by missionaries. The practice of conversions had been the bone of contention in the district for nearly a decade now.
The tone and tenor of the three-day session was set by Satyamitranandgiri Maharaj of Bharat Mata temple in Haridwar when he told the locals to accept milk, food and medicines (from missionaries) but "do not agree to change your religion". "Medicines, education and clothes are welcome but not your religion, the missionaries should be told," the saint warned the crowd of nearly a lakh. Urging the people to stay clear of allurements, the saint asked them to 'keep the pollution of conversion away from India'.
Chief minister Narendra Modi had a dig at secularists, NGOs and the media by saying that by crying hoarse about 'Shabari Kumbh' for weeks, they gave enough publicity to it. The Kumbh wouldn't have got more publicity even if formal invites were sent to the media, Modi said. He ridiculed the "Macaulay children" and NGOs for what he called 'defaming Hindutva abroad'.
Ramayana narrator Morari Bapu, who had originally floated the idea of Shabari Kumbh during a discourse in 2002, even quoted from a version of the Bible to drive home the point that conversion was a sin. "They are violating their own religion by converting people with the lure of medicines and money," Morari Bapu said without naming the missionaries. Justifying the re-conversion campaign by the Vanvasi Kalyan Parishad, Morari Bapu said there is nothing wrong if some one returns home after being cured through medication.
The saffron surge in the dry forest area spread over several square kilometres was apparent with small saffron triangular flags hoisted atop non-descript tribal huts as security forces guarded all Christian institutions in the district.
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