India: Hindu Extremists Forcibly 'Re-Convert' Christians

Monday, March 17, 2008

 Believers lured to temple in Himachal Pradesh, pressured to deny their faith.

SHIMLA, India (Compass Direct News) -- Hindu extremists recently carried out a well-planned scheme to lure to a temple and forcibly convert scores of Christians from villages around this capital city of Himachal Pradesh state.

Offering money, making threats, or leading the Christians to believe they were going to government offices for official paperwork, Hindu extremists from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) on February 27 lured the believers to the Satyanarayan Temple in the heart of Rampur Bushar.

At the temple, a haranguing speaker and others pressured about 200 people to re-convert, forcing many of them to participate in rituals and purification ceremonies.

Ramlal Kanol, who is blind, said four men came to his house on February 26, first offering him money to go with them, then threatening to imprison and fine him if he didn’t.

“I was forced to participate in the Hindu rituals, and I could not resist the force in the temple because of the massive crowd surrounding us,” he said. As part of the purification ceremony, Christians were made to have their feet washed and to drink Gangajal, the water of the River Ganges.

By one Christian pastor’s estimate, about 30 percent of those present were Hindus pretending to be Christians re-converting back to Hinduism.

“The crowd was gathered together to make a show that all of them are converted Christians re-converting to Hinduism,” said pastor Bhadur Singh, who along with 20 members of his church was lured to the temple by local politician named Brij Lal. Lal took them by bus supposedly for them to support his bid to win election to office.

Local media subsequently reported that 60 families had reconverted to Hinduism in purification ceremonies performed by Hindu priest Lal Dass.

Kanol, who has a preaching and healing ministry with Amar Jyoti India in Bhutti village, said the four Hindu extremists who came to his house on February 26 offered him money, and then threatened him and his wife Meera Devi with seven years of prison and a fine of 15,000 rupees (US$372) if he did not acquiesce to their demands.

“They threatened me, asking me to ‘Continue your work with the poor and healing the sick, but in the name of Ram, not Christ,’” he said.

Claiming that they were from an organization called Seva Bharati, the Hindu extremists offered Kanol an annual salary if he would do his service to humanity in the name of the Hindu god.

The Hindu extremists – “Heera Lal, Joginder, and a lady named Nirmala” among others – finally persuaded Kanol and his wife to accompany them to Rampur Bushar “for some official paper work,” he said.

His wife Meera Nevi recounted, “Instead, we were taken to the Hindu temple where they washed our feet, put a Hindu stole around our neck, and made us go around the temple. When we reached the temple, around 200 people from various villages were already brought there for the ceremony of re-conversion. I recognized only one of them.”

The harassment did not end that day. Some of the Hindu extremists came to Kanol’s house the next morning to set up a Hindu altar in his house in place of his cross and Christian altar.

“I told them straight, ‘I will never remove the cross, even if I have to die,’” Kanol said.

Among those taken by bus to the temple was Amar Singh, a Christian from Ganvi village.

Upon reaching the temple, Singh also was pressured to participate in the rituals and purification ceremonies.

“Brij Lal filled out some kind of a form which I did not sign – so he signed it himself for me,” Singh told Compass. “I, along with my family, will still follow Christ and go for the worship service to church.”

Anita Negi of Jhakadi village told Compass that two Hindu extremists told her to bring personal court case documents to authorities. While her husband was at work, she went with the two men, who took her to the Satyanarayan Temple.

“A man continuously lectured the crowd, persuading us to re-convert to Hinduism,” Negi said, adding that she there recognized four Christian women and three young children from her village.

“They did not give us opportunity to speak,” she said. “As soon as we entered, they welcomed us with garlands, Hindu temple songs, and we were made to eat food that was sacrificed to Hindu idols.”

Local Hindu extremists approached her husband, Sukhchand Negi, the next morning on his way to work and threatened him unless he forsook his Christian faith. He capitulated, she said with evident distress – their three children were also forced to re-convert – adding that her husband told her, “If you want to continue to believe, believe secretly, don’t force me.”

The Hindu extremists issued threats throughout the district. Dharmendra Kanol told Compass, “They sent me threatening messages, through the villagers, of attacking me with sticks in order to take me along to Rampur Bushar, but I did not [go].”

Lal Chand, one of 20 Christians taken from Ganvi village to the temple in Rampur Bushar, said the bus first stopped at a hotel where they were told to fill out a questionnaire asking, “What is your religion? What religion did you convert to? What means were adopted to convert you? Now are you willing to re-convert to Hinduism?”

“Then we were further lead to the Satyanarayan Temple,” Chand said.

‘Returning Home’

Local television channels and newspapers termed these incidents “returning home” in reports on February 28.

Amar Ujjala newspaper published statements from RSS and Bajrang Dal officials welcoming families who had returned to their “original homes,” saying they were glad that the re-converted families have recognized the “wrong intention” of Christians and their preachers and had decided to return to the Hindu fold.

They also claimed that they would organize more such “homecoming” events in other parts of Himachal Pradesh.

The state last year passed a controversial “Freedom of Religion Bill” mandating that anyone converting from one religion to another must first give notice to district magistrates, but it does not restrict people from reverting back to their “original religion,” which in most cases is deemed to be Hinduism.

The Christian population in Himachal Pradesh is 0.13 percent of the total.

Kuldeep Dogra, baptized a Christian four years ago, was among those lured to the temple. “I did not know that they would make me do all this,” he said. “I am badly hurt.”

Sundar Singh, one of the 20 Christians taken by bus to the temple, said there were about 10 cameramen there.

“I felt detestable,” he said. “That was the worst day of my life.”

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