Extremist group expects 500,000 people to attend event in Orissa.
by Nirmala Carvalho
MUMBAI, India, March 24 (Compass) -- A Hindu extremist group planning centenary celebrations in April hopes to "reconvert" as many as 10,000 tribal Christians to Hinduism during the event.
The Dharma Jogna will take place in Orissa on April 8-10, in honor of Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, dubbed the “second great leader of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).”
Given the recent trend of mass “reconversion” ceremonies organized by the RSS and its sister organization, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP or World Hindu Council), Christian leaders fear many tribal people may be persuaded to reconvert against their will.
The term “reconversion” ignores the fact that most tribal converts were traditionally animist and never considered themselves Hindus.
“We are extremely worried,” said the Rev. Dandia Basi Hrudaya, secretary of the Orissa chapter of the All India Christian Council (AICC). “The AICC and other Christian leaders are meeting this week to finalize plans to protect the tribals during this event.”
Hrudaya said the RSS was avoiding publicity for this event, having learned from the failure of the Shabri Kumbh reawakening event held in Dangs district, Gujarat on February 11-13. When advocacy groups warned of potential religious riots in Dangs, the government sent in police and paramilitary troops to protect the tribal residents.
“The RSS website doesn’t say much about the celebrations, but their official publication, the Organiser, has a few articles,” said Hrudaya. “They don’t want too much media attention this time – otherwise the reconversion plans may come to nothing, as they did in the Shabri Kumbh.”
The Rev. Pran Parichha, president of the Orissa Chapter of the AICC, told Compass he had a copy of a leaflet distributed by the RSS, inviting people to a great Hindu conference that would “drive away” an environment hostile to Hinduism.
“I have written to the district magistrate ... [asking him] to take precautionary measures to protect the lives of tribal Christians, as the Hindu fundamentalists will pressure them to convert to Hinduism,” said Parichha. “There are many churches and Christian institutions in that district which could be vandalized. From prior experience of such conventions, we know that anti-Christian passions can run high, and this could lead to loss of life and property.”
Dr. John Dayal, president of the All India Catholic Union, will also protest against the event. He plans to file an official complaint with the director general of police in Orissa, asking him to “invoke the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act (OFRA) against those announcing mass reconversions.”
Under the OFRA, people can be arrested for causing tension between religious communities. An evangelist in Rajasthan was recently arrested under this law. “We demand to know whether there are two separate laws – one for Christians, and one for Hindus,” Dayal said.
Call for Hindu Nationalism
The April event will be held in the tribal village of Chakapada, in Phulbani district, Orissa, with the RSS estimating at least 500,000 people will attend the opening ceremony.
Plans for the event should be examined in the light of inflammatory speeches made at the Shabri Kumbh in February, said Jesuit priest and human rights activist Father Cedric Prakash. “The RSS and the VHP are well-oiled think-tanks, and they have a sophisticated, well-organized machinery reaching right down to the village level,” he said.
He also pointed to topics slated for discussion during the three-day event, including the alleged “menace of conversion” and the need for a revival of Hindu nationalism.
The event is the third of its kind this year. The VHP held a Dharam Sansad, or Hindu leadership summit on February 1-2 at Allahabad. VHP international secretary Pravin Togadia later said a core issue discussed at the summit was the development of a nationwide “Hindu vote bank.”
The Dharam Sansad and the Shabri Kumbh both stressed the revival of Hindutva, or Hindu nationalism. The Shabri Kumbh was advertised as an event that would “resist and revert conversions to Christianity engineered by missionaries.”
Another Hindu “reawakening” event held on a smaller scale in Dangs, Gujarat in December 1998 led to religious rioting and the destruction of several churches. Just a few weeks later, in January 1999, a mob shouted Hindu slogans as they set fire to a vehicle in Keonjhar district, Orissa, where Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons, Philip and Timothy, lay sleeping. All three burned to death.
The state passed the OFRA in 1967 to prevent forced or manipulative conversions. The law, open to problematic interpretations, was overturned in 1973 and adopted again in 1977. In 1999, the state enacted an order enforcing the OFRA, which requires prior permission from local police and district magistrates before a conversion takes place.
The state government is presently a coalition between the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Biju Janata Dal (BJD). Sources say the BJP hopes to achieve a single party government after the next election.
Copyright 2006 Compass Direct