Christianity-free campaign: Why 53 Jharkhand families converted to Hinduism
On 10 April, Hindustan Times reported that “at least 53 families in five tribal-dominated villages “returned to Hindu fold” in the last one month as part of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)’s “Christianity-free block” campaign in the Arki block of Jharkhand's Khunti district.
According to the report this has happened in Sindri Panchayat of Arki block and the campaign would continue throughout April. The campaign is being led by a local functionary of the Vanwasi Kalyan Ashram (VKA) and deputy president of BJP's Khunti district unit, Laksham Singh Munda. The VKA is a Sangh Parivar affilaited organisation that works among tribals across India.
“On 7 April, at least seven Christian families – tribals as well as non-tribals — underwent a Shuddhikaran, or a purification ceremony in Kochasindhri village,” reported Hindustan Times.
Confirming the news, Munda told Catch that he, along with locals have been working towards reconversion for many months now. “We are bringing them back to their original religion,” he claimed.
The first batch of reconversion happened in February this year. On 25 February, Munda posted three pictures on his Facebook profile, of members of Adivasi community participating in the process of ghar wapsi.
“In Sindri villege of Arki Block, (members of Adivasi community) returning to Hinduism from Christianity,” wrote Munda as caption for the pictures. Following that in March, he organised a series of meetings under the banner of Hindu Sah Sarna Dharm Jangran Manch (Hindu cum Sarna Religion Awareness Forum), in which hundreds of people participated.
He says that he was helped in his mission by the Mukhiya of Sindri Panchayat, Rudranarayan Singh Munda and one Ajay Sahoo, who is associated with Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP).
“In fact, these are the people who are doing actual ground work. I along with others members of VKA and RSS are just providing guidance,” Munda said.
He also claimed, “The villagers approached us to do to something when Sarna people started becoming Christians.” Munda uses word Sarna (Adivasi) and Hindu interchangeably. When asked, why he is doing so despite Sarna being a different religion from Hinduism, he said, “Sarnas are nothing but Hindus. We have so many similarities. On the other hand, there is no cultural and religious similarity between Sarnas and Christians.” In addition to his affiliation with RSS and BJP, Munda is also a member of the Panchayat Committee at the neighbouring Tamar block of Ranchi district.
He alleged that in the last few years, Christian missionary organastions have tried to convert Adivaisis into Christianity under the pretext of providing healing. Though he could not tell exact numbers, he claimed, “pichhle kuchch salon mei senkadon log ko bahlaya gaya hai (in the last few years hundreds of people have been lured),” which include some of his distant family members.
“Our position is,” said Munda, “if they want to enjoy socio-cultural rights of being Adivasi then they have to leave Christianity. Otherwise they should live and die as per rules of Christianity.”
Jerom Gerald Kujur, a member of Jharkhand Indigenous People’s Forum contests Munda’s claim. “Merely be attending Chengai Sabha—a meeting organised to attain healing – one does not become Christian. But since organisations like VKA is against Christianity itself, they force any person who has attended meetings organised by Christian organisations, to undergo (Hindu) purification rituals.”
Moreover, if journalists and activists are to be believed, this is not an isolated incident. “There is nothing new about this kind of campaign. RSS and its affiliated organisations such as Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram had been working towards it for long,” says Faisal Anurag, a senior journalist based in Ranchi. “However, the recent victory in the Assembly elections, especially in Uttar Pradesh, have emboldened its cadre,” he adds.
Dayamani Barla, a tribal rights activist, who contested the 2014 Lok Sabha election on an Aam Admi Party (AAP) ticket agrees with Anurag. She also says that this is not just limited to few districts, but a state-wide phenomena. “Districts like Gumla, Palamu and Chaibasa are strongholds of VKA,” says Barla.
Both Anurag and Barla claim that VKA's efforts are also aimed at weakening the movement against the change of land laws in Jharkhand.
“Organisations like VKA and others are trying create bogey of conversion in order to weaken the ongoing land rights struggle,” said Barla.
Here, it can be noted that in September last year, in the wake of massive protest against the now amended Chhota Nagpur Tenancy (CNT) Act and Santhal Pargana Tenancy (SPT) Act, Jharkhand Chief Minister Raghubar Das had played the same card. He blamed the protests on “Christian missionaries who were actively involved in converting tribals”.