Patna, May 19 (IANS) — Groups like the Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Hindu Jagran Manch are up in arms against missionary activities in Bihar after about 100 Dalits, who occupy the lowest rung of the caste hierarchy, embraced Christianity early this month in two villages of Bhojpur district to protest discrimination by upper caste Hindus.
The hardline Hindu groups allege missionaries convince lower caste Hindus to change their faith using allurements of cash and kind. But the missionaries claim they are engaged only in social work in impoverished areas and locals voluntarily convert to Christianity to escape caste oppression.
A Bajrang Dal leader here warned Christian missionaries to stop “forcible” conversions in rural Bihar or face trouble.
“A team of Bajrang Dal and VHP will meet Bihar home secretary and the police chief to demand a high-level probe into the role of Christian missionaries and a ban on conversions in Bihar in the interest of nation-building,” the Bajrang Dal leader said.
Even the BJP has sent a team to Bhojpur to probe the reported conversion of 100 Dalits.
“The Dalits have been ignored and neglected by the government and Christian missionaries have penetrated Bihar with the aim of converting Dalits to Christianity,” said BJP leader Kiran Ghai.
She charged Christian missionaries with using false propaganda and money to convert the poor.
What is giving Ghai’s party and its affiliated Hindu groups nightmares is the large crowds missionaries have reportedly been attracting to their religious discourses and meetings in rural Bihar.
Sources claimed Christian missionaries have made inroads into the Dalit communities in Bhojpur, Aurangabad, Gaya, Patna and Buxar districts by providing mobile health facilities, education and food at the doorstep.
According to them, in Bhojpur district alone Christian missionaries have been working in over two dozen villages where they have converted Dalits in large numbers.
Confirming this, Bhojpur district magistrate Sanjay Kumar said: “We are getting more information and have started an investigation.“
Sources alleged five groups of Christian missionaries are active in the district and are receiving funds from Chennai, Lucknow and outside India in the name of humanitarian and social work among the poor.
A missionary called James in Bhojpur acknowledges that he and other Christian groups are working in a dozen villages. He said the missionaries approach locals and convince them to change their faith by pointing out that the new religion would give them freedom from caste-based discrimination.
Missionaries insist that the conversions are voluntary and no one is forced or lured into changing his or her faith.
“Widespread discrimination, poverty, unemployment and illiteracy have forced us to convert to Christianity,” said Kamta Ram of Ganghar village, whose Dalits have for long been furious with their upper caste neighbours’ refusal to treat them as equals.
In several districts including Bhojpur, Christian missionaries are running schools, health centers and help centers, which have enabled them to come into direct contact with poor Dalits.
© Copyright 2003 IANS India Private Limited, New Delhi. Posted on Religioscope with permission.