Andhra Jyothy: Proselytizing Unlimited!
Andhra Jyothy is the third largest circulated newspaper in
Andhra Pradesh. From November 10 to 16th, the newspaper ran a six-part series
on religious conversions in AP. The following is a translation of their
articles. No personal views have been recorded in any of the six parts below.
There are 18 proselytizing organisations that are currently
working in India,
along with 45 associated organisations. Andhra Pradesh (AP) leads in the number
of religious converts, with main focus on districts like Krishna, Guntur, Prakasham, Godavari
, Medak, Rangareddy, Adilabad, Karimnagar, and Kadapa.
Reports from RSS suggest that nearly 10% of the population
in these districts have already converted. The organisations divide the state
landscape into two parts – with the proselytizing effort in one part lead by 29
organisations and other with the remaining 77 organisations. In addition to
this there are about 205 sister organisations, and countless small
organizations supporting them from ground up.
Operation – AD2000
A population of 100 crore people with a majority of them from “other
religions”. It is into this landscape of religious diversity that international
missionary organisations have rushed into. A special project, AD2000, was
started to co-ordinate all missionaries in India including in the area of
funding was launched in 1995 with the congregation being attended by prominent
Christian religious leaders from all over the world. This project is also known
as “Joshua project.”
The project consisted of three parts – namely plug,prim, and
Under “Plug”, experts will attempt to ‘plug’ (as the
name goes) into pockets of demographic segments that fall under the poverty
line to look at means for effective targetting. The next stage “prim” involves
the targetting process itself involving localised or customised prayers,
religious preachings/congregations and further refinement of the demographic
targetting. Under “Nice” preachers move into affect the actual conversions.
Experts are of the view that as part of the “Joshua Project” a lot of
strategists from the US have visited India for ‘studying’ the prevailing
It is also said that the extent and scope of research, and diversified classification surprised even our intelligence agencies. It is believed that the first phase of “Joshua Project “is over and currently “Joshua-2” is in the flow. All these details have been published by “Tehelka” in their latest report “Top Secret”.
Having had a degree of success in coastal Andhra regions
proselytising efforts have effected delta regions as well. Missionaries have
travelled on the road of charity and have instead extended the reach of their
Unfortunately, the bills did not pass through in Parliament
due to lack of a majority vote. Even the Freedom to Religion Bill (1979) was
withdrawn due to lack of majority. Orissa and Madhya Pradesh respectively have
produced acts in 1968, 1969. Arunachal Pradesh did it in 1978, while in 2002
laws were introduced in Tamil Nadu to ban forceful conversions.
If we were to go by the statistics 22000 newspaer houses,
over 1890 radio and TV stations are run by Churches worldwide. It is estimated that,
over the next five years , 75% of Hindus in Malaysia will be converted.
Crime and Punishment
It is a criminal offence to undertake forceful religious conversion by Indian law (IPC, Sections 295A, 298)
If proved guilty, the perpetrators can be sentenced to
rigorous imprisonment and a fine. Orissa and Madhya radesh have ensured by law
that forceful conversion of children, women and of individuals belonging to
scheduled castes and tribes (SC/ST) would be rewarded double the punishment.
Further proselytising efforts in places of pilgrimage of other religions are
also banned. Further instigation of religious fervor by inflammatory speeches
is a crime too. (IPC, Sec 153 (A))
(Continued in Part 2: The story of Ramalakshmi of Srubujji Palli, Srikakulam District. Widowed for 12 years now she was lured with something she desperately sought: survival of her two sons and a decent education. Ramalakshmi now goes by the name Mary.)
All that we are doing is just preaching, is what they claim.
There is a lure behind this preaching say their detractors.
They ask what is wrong in helping people in distress? The detractors say that in the name of helping, these people are forcing change in faith.
Where does the truth lie? What are the actual facts? An in
depth study into the conversions happening in the state reveals that there is
truth in both the arguments mentioned above. Though the constitution of India entitles
freedom to preach any religion and also allows practising any faith
voluntarily, the actual happenings on the ground suggest that everything is not
as smooth as it seems to be. In many instances, many people converted their
faith to Christianity only because of “excessive pressure from preaching”.
One sociologist says thus – “Every society has problems.
Every human being faces difficulties. Helping them overcome these problems is
humanity. Telling them that we will solve the problem but you have to convert
into our faith is luring. Both these (helping and luring) are the central focus
points of the process of conversion of faith to Christianity.”
Dalits have voluntarily chosen themselves to convert to
different faiths, mainly to fight the discrimination that once existed in the
Hindu society and get over the severe social differences and domination of the
upper castes. There is nothing wrong in this. No one can point a finger towards
their action either. Even Babasaheb Ambedkar, widely regarded as the father of
Indian Constitution and Dalit leader, publicly said many times that this
conversion of faith is the only medicine for Dalits to fight the discrimination
they face. Under his aegis, about 5 lakh Dalits converted into Buddhism on
October 14th, 1956. Dr. Ambedkar showed this path to those sections of the
society that were facing severe discrimination.
However, what has been observed of late is that those who
have never faced any social discrimination or those who stay in the top floors
of the society have also taken up to these conversions. There is no issue if
this change of faith by upper castes or anyone else is voluntary. The fact is
that in many instances there are several other factors that create an impact on
them. There are multiple instances wherein undue strong luring and influences
have forced people with budding thought process to forcibly convert.
After reading Part-1 of this series, a gentleman who belongs
to BC caste, Mr. Varadarajulu called up Andhra Jyothy office and lamented that
his daughter was lured and forcibly converted into a nun. Strong efforts were
made to convert the faith of a daughter of a well-known and upper caste person
associated with journalism, but they couldn’t succeed. However a similar effort
in a family in Visakhapatnam
yielded success for them.
Now, these kind of conversions are not because of
discrimination. “Health will improve”, “financial problems will be solved” are
some of the many answers one gets when asked “why?”.
Whatever the law says, it is also a fact these conversions
lead to friction and strife. There are instances when conversions left families
depressed. Just like a coin has two sides to it, the story of conversions also
has two sides to it. Each experience is unique to those who went through it.
Sharing some of them below (some names have been changed upon their request).
“We alighted at the Kotipalli bus stand in Rajamundry, 12
days ago. After sometime, three ladies approached us and said “Convert your
faith. God will help you. You will also feel financially secure”.
We told them that we have no such interest and moved along. Yet, they didn’t leave us. They asked us think again and said “please read these books, you will understand about religion” and tried to hand over some books. We again told them we are not interested and yet they still did not leave us. They left only after we reprimanded them severely. Some of our co-passengers at the bus stand also faced similar experiences”
“We are staying in Hyderabad
since 50 years. We have two daughters and two sons. I educated my youngest
daughter well, and she used to work at Infosys. We were having plans to perform
her marriage this year too.
One fine day in July this year, she told us that she is
going out of station. We get a call from Chennai the very next day. “Dad, I
have converted into a nun. I have listed all the reasons for this step of mine
in a six-page letter.” We were shocked. We immediately left for Chennai. We had
to wait for the whole day to just see our daughter. We wept immediately on
seeing her. She wore white dress. But we couldn’t get to talk to her privately
because there was protection around her!
I fought with them for some privacy. At that point of time,
someone from inside came and handed over a paper to me.
That was a letter that my daughter wrote to the police
commissioner of Chennai. She wrote that she is a major and has willfully and
voluntarily changed her religion. She also wrote that we (parents) might take
her away forcibly and therefore was requesting for police protection.
I was further shocked. There were no differences between me
and daughter. We all lived affectionately together. So why would she write to
the police? We begged her for sometime. We cried. She cried. But she didn’t
utter a single word. Finally, we had to give up and we came back.
They returned all her clothes and cell phone. We checked her
messages in the phone. There were many message which meant the following – “God
selected you because you are special. There is no peace better than that in
serving God. You are the lucky one amongst crores of people. Come, serve God
and live your life.” A lawyer adivsed us that there is no point in filing a
case and the best approach to follow is to meet leaders of the Church.
He asked us to go to a church in Malkajagiri. When I bought
up this topic before them, they immediately went inside saying “we don’t know
anything”. I used to get very angry when our relatives used to ask us if it was
true that my daughter converted to a nun.
Later, my anger subsided but the sadness hasn’t. Why did they have to lure my daughter? Who gave them the right to convert the faith of my daughter. It is most depressing that neither I can file a case nor I can get my daughter back.”
“I have three daughters. My second daughter Sravanthi joined
Satyam computers in 2002. After about three years, they sent her to the US. Shortly
thereafter, her colleagues and a father from local church forced her to convert
by making her believe that her work-related mental tensions will be relieved if
she starts believing in Jesus.
After coming back to India, she left her job. When
questioned why, all she said was that “He will take care of everything.” She
told us that it is a sin to work and marry.
We took her to a psychologist in Bhuvaneswar to get her treated, and recover she did. So I got her back to Visakhapatnam and made her stay with us only. Though she forgot everything she remembered God. She ran away from home after 2 years. We searched and got her back. She ran away twice later.
We later came to know that she is now staying with Christians in Hyderabad. It is atrocious that even educated people are influenced and forcibly converted like this. As a father, I know the pain. No faith asks you to hate other faiths. But, missionaries are being established with the only aim to converting faith of people. This has to be stopped. ”
- Somajajula Thyagaraja Sastry, Homeo physician, Visakhapatnam
“Few years back, I had severe fever. I was told by neighbours
and elders of church that if I convert, then my disease will go. With the hope
that my health will improve, I converted. I dutifully prayed for two years.
Nothing changed. So I changed back to my original faith. ”- Satyavati, Rajolu
Mandal (East Godavari District)
“Once upon a time, they used to distribute money and change faith. Now conversions are happening because of the belief that changes in education and health is possible through missionaries. There is no force involved in this by anyone. It is their belief that Christians who read bible and go to church will enjoy good health.”
- Jyothula Christian Raju, Principal, Srikakulam district.
Religion is the goal, Service is the path. This is the
formula that missionaries follow. There is no dearth of hunger, ill-health,
illiteracy, poverty in the country. And it is these conditions that provide a
highly favourable opportunity for conversions. From the capital city to the
remotest tribal village, there is no place which of problem-free. And
these problems have nothing to do with caste.
It is the these problems that are the foundation for
conversions. Let us start with capital of the state, the preachers concentrate
on bastis where the poor live. They go to the huts and play with the children,
whilst the parents are at work. They feed everyone there. The parents are happy
because the kids are happy. And at about this time, the preachers start
prayers. They promise education to the child if the family converts their
religion. They even organise free health camps inside these bastis, to improve
They pray while providing them with health care. If the
disease gets cured, they are made to believe that it is because of the “Lord”.
There are certain religious organisations that cash in on hunger too.
A church in Secunderabad feeds the poor for two times a day.
However it is mandatory that they pray between the meals. In a basti in the
Tarnaka area of Hyderabad
city, an organisation called World Vision was successful in converting 150
people. Giving gifts to children and pulling rickshaws to the elders was their
approach. Not just the poor in the bastis, these people attract middle class
families with health problems and or even help them during a death in the
family. Distribution of pamphlets in bus stops and educational institutions is
a regular occurrence.
Some organisations make use of a death in a family. When the
tragedy occurs, these people reach the bereaved home and pray for them in the
name of counselling. They tell that the only way to overcome this grief is to
believe in Jesus and he will take care of their hardships. Plus they also tell
them that there is no need for the many formalities after death, in
Some preachers in Kalluru basti in Kurnool town distribute books to children. They tell them that by by-hearting the sentences in these books, they will get good education and God will beckon them. One Mr. Laxmaiah says “ They have given these books to my son Chetan. Despite me telling him not to read them, he is not listening to me.” A Mr.Vasikeri from Guntakal, Ananthpur lost two of his brothers and was in depression. They forced him to convert telling him that such an action will relieve him of this depression.
“I will pray for you. The pain in your joints will come
down. This will be proved in scanning also. Only if the pain reduces, you can
believe in Jesus”.
This is a proposal that an educated, upper caste person got.
Those suffering from health related issues are typically in a weak mental
state. In the state that they are, they really wouldn’t mind to convert if
their health improves. This is the “weak point” that these people target!
If one were to ask people why they converted, the most
common answer seems to be “because my disease got cured”. Is the cure just
incidental? Or is it because of science? Or is it just a result of prayers?
Whatever the actual reason is, preachers tell that the cure is because of the
“effort of God”. There is no difference between the rich and poor when it comes
to ill-health. There are even allegations that conversion efforts are on in
of Hyderabad, for about 5
Trainee nurses are placing a bible in the hands of patients
and making them pray. They tell them that their disease will be cured if they
do like this. Since that’s what any patient wants, they will pray. There are
even allegations that even relatives of the patients are being given bibles.
Conversion activities used to be discreet in West Godavari district. But now they are all out in the
open. Those who are identified as coming from upper castes are themselves
getting converted. Those suffering from diseases, mental issues, or even facing
family issues are approached either through relatives who have already
converted or through such acquaintances and converted. This is like a chain
Targetting the tribals
The latest slogan appears to be this – “The preacher has to be able to reach areas that the government also cannot”!. Conversion activities are happening at a fast pace in Seethamapeta village of Srikakulam district. The target groups are tribals and fishermen. Tribals actually don’t come under any religion. No religious law is applicable on them. They just pray to nature and local deities.
And now they are being in the path of the Lord. “It doesn’t
matter if there is civilisation growth in Hindu religion. Discrimination in
that religion will always continue. Such problems will not exist if you join
Christianity. The Hindu religion is not for poor people. It is not a real
religion. In Christianity, you directly go to God after death.” – this is what
is being preached to the tribals.
Some of the mandals in which conversions happened on large
scale are Seethamapeta, Palakonda, Moliyaputti, Mandasa, Sarurujilli,
Vajrapaukotturu and Paatapattanam.
Representatives of Christian missionaries stay put in tribal
areas and concentrate exclusively on conversion activities. 284 of the 928 village
panchayats in Vijayanagaram district are tribal populated. They have even
printed the bible in the local “sapara” language that the tribals speak.
Tribal kids are being sent to missionary schools in
Veeraghattam, Palakonda, Vijayanagaram and Visakahpatnam. Along with rice and
wheat, blankets are also distributed in winter. A Rs.30 lakh hospital is being
constructed in Savarakotapadu of Gummalakshmipuram mandal.
Agency areas of East Godavari districts are also seeing large scale conversion activities. In villages dominated by fishermen, “Sunday schools” are held for children wherein gifts are distributed and healthy food is provided after which the foundations of religion are imparted in them.
It is estimated at about 1000 families in tribal areas of Khammam districts have been converted. The koya and lambada groups are the main targets. Recently, about 20 nomad families were converted in Yadagiripalli region of Yadagirigutta mandal.
Dalits in the Nagarkarnool, Vanaparti, Atmakur, Narya,
Amarachita, and Gadval areas in Mahbubnagar districts and chenchus from
Achampet region are taking to conversions on a large scale.
“If you want your child to have a bright future, join them
in a particular school. If you want good health, pray” is what is being repeatedly
told and these groups thus get attracted towards the religion.
Religious conversion in Guntur district is a normal thing. Almost all
caste groups are inclined towards conversion. The Kamma, Reddy and Kapu groups
in Palnadu and Delta areas are getting converted in large scale.
About 90% of people in Rentachintala, Tallacheruvu and
Patibandla villages have taken to Christianity. With even preachers coming from
the upper castes, it has become easier to attract the upper caste people.
Marketing ideas are also in vogue. Schemes are announced to
attract people towards the religion. It is being said that about Rs. 500 crores
have been raised through such schemes, with about one lakh people investing in
such schemes. The promise of free food in the church if you convert lures them.
Some of the other promised things are pakka houses, financial help, trips to
the hospital etc, thus attracting them towards the religion.
Two more responses from readers.
“I was suffering from leprosy since childhood. There was no hope even after visiting many hospitals. I was depressed. Under these circumstances, I converted to Christianity. Apart from taking the name of Jesus everyday, certain medication helped in the curing of my disease. I currently work as a pastor and preach Christianity.”
-Chandanala Ramulu, Sarurujilli, Srikakulam District
“ We are a poor family. Agriculture is our only source of income. My mother fell sick in my childhood only. Christian missionary organisations came to our help. They prayed that my mother’s health get better. We then strongly believed that she got cured only because we prayed in the Church. We then converted.”
-Avuguddi Prasad, Parvathipuram, Srikakulam District.
If one is to assume that sacred threads, plants, coconuts, and offering your hair is restricted to just Hinduism, then one is mistaken.
These traditions have found their way into Christianity too. Christian missionaries who are encouraging religious conversion through campaigns, influences, education and health are also trying to integrate certain traditions of Hinduism into Christianity. Christian organizations which object to the giving of “teertham” and “prasadam” (offering from god) in Hindu temples have now begun to follow certain other traditions like offering of hair, breaking coconuts, lighting agarbathis etc. They are even writing “padyalu”(poems) which eulogise Jesus. They are also composing them in Hindustani classical music, to sound similar to Thyagaraja keertanas. They have now introduced “Christian Yoga”.
Essentially they are Indianizing Christianity. With such changes, they are keen to ensure that those Hindus who are willing to convert, do not feel totally out of place in Christianity. This whole planning is happening so that they become culturally close to Hindus too. This one time, Vatican city depicted the life and times of Jesus through Bharatanatyam.
They now believe that if you sip the coconut water that the pastor gives, it will cure your health. The regularly held “Health congregations” in Anantapur districts attract huge crowds because of the belief that the oil given here will cure many diseases.
Caste system is unique to Hinduism. But in our country, this system has crept into Christianity too. Many of those who converted still follow their caste traditions. Marriages happen within their castes only. Many of these continue to use surnames that indicate their caste. The differences between upper caste and lower caste still exists.
In-fact in some places, churches have been built exclusively for upper and lower castes separately!
Meanwhile, the series of articles in Andhra Jyothy is inviting tremendous response from the entire state. Readers from across the state are calling up Andhra Jyothy’s office and talking about their experiences with conversion.
Some people are confessing that they converted into Christianity, amongst other reasons, after believing the missionaries campaign that they will gain good health. Some among these said they re-converted because they were not able to gel in Christianity.
Some people encourage conversions with the aim of expanding the religion. Some people encourage conversions with the aim of making more money! There are strong allegations that the entire conversion saga revolves around money.
Every missionary and its associated organisations have to send monthly reports to International institutions detailing the number of people they have converted. Fathers and pastors in Church are awarded based on the number of conversions. Large funds are also accumulated in the name of building churches. Those pastors, who used to ride on cycles and preach, are now travelling in luxurious cars.
There are also rumours that each family will be given Rs. 10,000 in Mahbubnagar district if they convert. And there are those who steal this money but tell the international institutions that this money is spent on the welfare of the poor. 75% of the churches in Palnadu area of Guntur run on funds from outside India. There are some who still work sincerely for religion and live on local fund/donations. According to official data available in 1989, churches world wide spend about Rs. 14,500 dollars each!
There is no official data on how many people in Andhra Pradesh have converted, simply because there is no rule to have such data registered. In Kerala and Tamilnadu, it is compulsory to get such information recorded in the revenue department.
If Dalits convert to Christianity, their social status changes from SC to BC and they lose their benefits that accrue from them being SCs. Fearing this, many don’t register and remain as SC’s. Many SC’s feel that genuine people are affected because of this.
80 year old Rajamani was a resident of a small village, Ramavaram near Hyderabad. She was a devout Hindu. She used to pray at Shiva temple daily during the auspicious “Kartheeka masam” (the month immediately after Deepavali). She converted herself to Christianity about 9 months back. She stopped her pooja and started going to Church every Sunday. When asked why she converted, she said “Church officers have told me that after my death there will be no need for any ceremony. Therefore, there will be no financial burden on my family. That is the reason I converted.”
The family does not like this. Rajamani passed away about two weeks back. Church officials came and told the family that they will conduct her last rites per christian tradition. Despite objections from the family, the last rites were performed according to Christianity. This is a prime example of clashes in the family because of conversions.
Five residents of Ikapamula village in Kattamguru mandal of Nalgonda district called up Andhra Jyothy office and have narrated their experience.
Church people told us that “Jesus will give you money. He will cleanse your sins with blood. He can even cure diseases like Asthma. He will also clear your path to Heaven.” They told us not to go to temples, not to touch the bodies of any expired relatives; asked our wives to remove their bangles; asked our wives not to apply tilak. So we stopped going to the Church and came back into Hinduism. There are about 20 such families in this village.”
Jalayagnam, Arogyasri, Loan at 25p interest, free power to farmers – these are some of the schemes that were announced and implemented by YSR. There is one more scheme that he has implemented – “the Christianity upliftment scheme.”
Though this scheme was not announced officially, it was implemented with government funds. Sops were announced under “Jerusalem Yatra”. This scheme was implemented for 2 years. After some people approached the High Court, the HC gave a stay order on government funding for religious travel. YSR alloted large amount of funds for construction of churches all over the state. Prior to that, government funding used to be available to minority prayer houses, but such funding was available to churches, gurudwaras, Buddhists temples and they were available only for repairs and normal running of these places.
The situation changed after YSR came into power. Villages were chosen district wise and funds were allocated to construct churches. Just in September 2008, Rs 2.5 crores were released for construction and repair of about 226 churches in Chittoor, Kurnool, West Godavari, Krishna, East Godavari, Srikakulam, Vijayanagaram, Visakhapatnam, Ananthapur, Kadapa, Guntur, Prakasam, Nellore, Karimnagar, Nalgonda, Rangareddy, Medak and Mahbubnagar districts. It is interesting to note that all this happening just months before the 2009 elections.
All these funds were released vide GO’s. Through GO number
421 (issued on 2-9-2008), Rs. 18 lakhs were released to Ironbanda, Enakondla,
Peddanelaturu (2 churches), Chindukuru, Villabanda, Nannuru, Done, Orvakallu,
Mitnaalu, Jillela, U.Bollavaram, Udumaalpuram, Veldurti, Midturu, and
K.Singavaram villages for the construction of 18 Churches.
Similarly, vide GO number 422, Rs. 7 lakhs were released to churches in the Rapaka, Gurugumilli, Pangidigudem, Penumarru, Ankoderu, and Adamalli villages in the West Godavari district. Government help was made available to even towns which already had considerable number of churches.
There are opinions that state that all this was done to gather Christian votes. Another opinion is that the encouragement that YSR gave to Christianity also encouraged conversions a lot. There are allegations that conversions increased a lot in his tenure. Special encouragement was given by YSR’s family. Before YSR came into power, K.A.Paul was the only main preacher from the state. After YSR came into power, K.A.Paul was embroiled n controversies.
Paul was pushed into the backdoor, and YSR’s own son-in-law Brother Anil Kumar (he was a Brahmin who converted into Christianity) influence began. He was able to hold large gatherings at many places in the state. It became a norm to see participation from local Congress leaders and public representatives in these gatherings.
There are also allegations that Anil Kumar used to bring pressure on government to take pro-Christian decisions. One of the allegations is that he pressurised the revenue department to allot an already alloted piece of waste land to Christian missionary.
There is a saying in Telugu –“One should do justice even while dealing with “own” brother”. But in the case of “our own” Jagan, many pastors are saying that we have to forigve Jagan even if he keeps making multiple mistakes. There is a lot of “Jagan bhajan” in many churches across the state. They are backing him, despite all those crimes, just because they think he is “their own”. That is the measure of influence YSR’s family has on Christians today. There are some churches who are working towards making Jagan the CM. It has also become a norm for pastors to say in their Sunday prayers that injustice is being meted out to Jagan.
A church was opened in Raavipativaripalem in the constituency of Prathipadu in Guntur district on September 30th. On this occasion, instead of eulogising Jesus, Servant of the God of Gospel Ministries, Ranjit Opill started praising Jagan. He predicted thus – “The state is in such dire straits because we do not have a strong leader like YSR. Jagan has to become the CM of the state. This will happen in the next elections.”
Elders of Christianity were directly involved in campaigning during the Kadapa Lok Sabha and Pulivendula assembly by-elections. Ashok Kumar, state General Secretary of Christian Minority Alliance addressed a press conference in the YSR Congress party office in Pulivendula. He called for all christians to be united in campaigning for the victory of Jagan and Y.S.Vijayamma. A Father was also part of this conference. In the previous elections, various gatherings, meetings, felicitations, and prayers were organised in Churches for Congress leaders.
Some Christians themselves are criticizing this politicisation of religion. There are many pastors who freely resorted to conversion related activities with the strong feeling of “this government is ours” in the background. They even used government schemes to lure people into the religion. In some districts, they promised them government sops if they converted their religion. There are also allegations that in some places, preference for schemes was given to converted people.
This is what happened in East Godavari’s district in a Girl child welfare scheme. If a mother gets operated after conceiving two girl children, the government will deposit Rs. 5000 for one girl child and will return the money with interest accrued when the child completes 18 years. This scheme was introduced in 1996 and was changed in 2005. Instead of giving the money, it was converted to an insurance scheme. In East Godavari districts, 35% of the 58, 152 children who were insured were either Dalit Christians or minority Christians. This is the situation with just one scheme in just one district!
What is right?
It is a general norm that welfare schemes are announced and implemented for minorities. But the fact that YSR released so many funds just for construction of churches is very notable. This is not unconstitutional, but there are no precedents available wherein so much money was released in just one month for churches.
A similar gesture was made to wakf institutions too. There are different opinions being expressed by Hindutva organisations on this largesse. No temple in the state gets any money from the government. In-fact, government gets money from the temples.
The government gets 26.5 % of the offerings made in the temples, in the name of Audit fees, contribution, CGF, Dhoopa Deepa Naivaidya scheme, Archana Welfare fund etc. 3% of these funds are alloted back to temples for repair works. Salaries of all employees, the cost of running the temple and the office premises are all funded by offerings made by the public. Hindu organisations are therefore questioning these double standards.
When one chooses to convert into a different religion despite the fact that most of the people in his society, his ancestors and his family members follow another religion, then either one is attracted to the new religion and wishes to explore/search for newness in that religion or one is disappointed with the current path that one is following.
The discussions on the recent large scale conversions would be incomplete if we don’t understand the context of the latter. This article makes an attempt to delve into it.
The first step in the conversion journey started by the Dalits is their strong protest against the caste system, untouchability and discriminatory nature of Hindu religion. Even though this was sensational enough, no one could actually blame them for converting their religion. However, currently those who are converting are not just Dalits but people belonging to other social groups that don’t face any of such discrimination.
Interesting answers and the need for course correction were seen, when the reasons for such conversions were investigated. The head of the Chilkuru Balaji Temple, Mr. Soundarajan, had this to say – “The Hindu religion is very flexible. Even if one doesn’t actually follow the traditions, there is no one to question. There is no orthodoxy and discipline. Hence the chance of getting influenced by other religions is high.”
Mr. Ramakrishna from Dlishukhnagar criticizes thus – “Nowhere in the world do other religious prayer places charge you for pujas, prayers, etc. But only in Hinduism you have to buy a ticket for visiting temples and give offerings while praying. It is just business everywhere.”
A farmer, Mr. Krishna Reddy from the Maheshwaram area had this to say – “In other religions, all are equal before God. In Hinduism, there is one type of puja for the wealthy and rich, and another type of puja for those who are not. I never understand why VIPs are giving harathis each time they visit temples.”
A sociologist, Mr. Rama Krishna found fault with the behaviour of Hindu priests and gurus. “If we go to a church or a mosque, the gurus there talk to us affectionately. Gurus of Hinduism don’t behave similarly.”
The temple assets safety committee convenor N.V.S.S.Prabhakar had this to say – “When one wishes to convert, one is expected to know what is there in our religion and what is there in the other religion. What kind of research are those who are converting doing? Do they even have those resources? We need to search for answers to these basic questions.”
Veda Bharati co-ordinator, Gouribhatla Subramanya Sharma analysed thus – “Conversions have been happening from a long time. Why then are controversies erupting only lately? Jainism and Buddhism never degraded Hinduism. However, Christian missionaries are trying to break the very foundations of our country by even trying to distance the nationality of those who converted.”
“The only way to stop these conversions is to allow temple entry to all Dalits” – this is a very common demand of all those people who re-converted, in Mahbubnagar district. One Mr. M.Daanelu rued thus –“Hindus should not discriminate Dalits. We should also be allowed entry into temples.”
VHP leader Lakshmi Narayan opines that “Dharmic programmes should be conducted regularly in Dalit wards. On behalf of VHP, we organize Sita Rama Kalyanam and other pujas every year in the Pata Palamuru Dalit ward. These programmes should be replicated in the entire state to prevent conversions.”
Laws should be implemented
BJP state Vice-President, Challapalle Narasimha Reddy opines that “Government should strongly implement the SC ruling that those who enjoy the fruits of reservation while being Hindus will lose their privileges once they convert (to Christianity or Islam). The SC, ST discrimination laws came into effect to fight the caste discrimination in the Hindu society. Since religions like Christianity and Islam don’t have a caste like system, those SCs and STs who convert have to give up their reservation privileges.
The government should immediately stop releasing funds that help in promoting religions. GO’s 746 and 747 which were issued to band conversions should be implemented.”
STU state president Kathi Narasimha Reddy thinks that “it is unethical to use the backwardness and illiteracy of downtrodden sections of Hindus to influence them into converting their religion. It is a crime to resort to such conversion activities. The government has to implement the laws more strictly. “
Loksatta president of Chittoor Jayakumar thinks that only special laws can help in preventing conversions. A student of Siddardha College in Vijayawada thinks that “They neither have respect nor liking to our country. They abuse Rama and Krishna. They do not respect the Shankaracharyas. They hate Swami Vivekananda. How can we expect someone who hates Hindu sentiments and traditions, to teach us peace, equality and culture?”
Mr. Vasi Raju of Nalgonda district rues that “It is humane to visit the bereaved family who just lost one of their members. But when my niece died, they told me not to go the ceremonies. There are no elders in Hindu religion to educate us that we have to give up such things if we convert. It would be nice if someone actually does that.”
Social scientist Mr. Vasu thinks that “changes have to be brought into Hinduism that will attract youth that make up 50% of our population. No one is asking to change the foundations. But it would be good if some traditions are changed according to time. If one were to satisfy one person fully in one religion, conversions will not happen.”
Change where it was resisted.
In 1930, Dalits undertook a satyagraha under the leadership of Babasaheb Ambdekar outside the famous Kalaram temple in Nashik, Maharashtra. They were demanding entry into the temple. Chief priest Ramdas Maharaj along with other trustees and local upper caste people were against this demand and tried to prevent them from entering.
This satyagraha continued for 5 years and yet they were not granted entry. About 75 years later, in 2005, a programme was conducted in this temple.
In this programme, chief priest Mr. Sudhir Maharaj
apologised for the 1930 incident. Sudhir Maharaj is the grandson of the then
chief priest Ramdas Maharaj. “I sincerely apologise for the action of my
grandfather in refusing entry to Babasaheb back then” –he publicly announced.
He is now actively involved in not just allowing them entry but also in
teaching them the vedas.
Correcting our shortcomings
Trustee of Chilkuru Balaji temple, Professor Soundarajan believes that “Hinduism was a very strong religion once. Buddhism was born by pointing to some shortcomings in Hinduism and trying to reform them. However, Buddhism slowly faded away because of the absence of a fundamental discipline in it. Similar mistakes continued to happen in Hinduism too. “
“There used to be discipline in Hinduism once. As long as that discipline was followed, there were no problems. Weaknesses arise when there is no discipline. There will be lot of people who would want to take advantage of such weaknesses. There is no point in blaming others for inherent faults in our religion. If we correct our own shortcomings, these problems will be solved.”
Swami Paripoorananda thinks that “There will be no problem if they preach traditions of Christianity religion. If they are just preaching the good things in their religion to all and are developing the personality within people, there is nothing that we are losing. Organisations that preach Hindu Dharma outside India do precisely the same. Ramakrishna Math has a following from lakhs of foreigners. So does ISKCON”.
“These organisations never ask people from other faiths to
join Hindu religion. These organisations never say that Jesus is not the right
God or that their religious texts are all wrong. They just talk about the
greatness in Hinduism. However, in recent times, the exact opposite is
happening in the name of preaching Christianity. It is not at all
appropriate to show Hindu Gods as enemies and to teach that Hindu dharma and traditions
Hinduism in America
While on one hand we have people converting to Christianity in large numbers in India, on the other hand we also observe that a lot of people are getting attracted towards Hinduism outside India. Especially a lot of Americans now started to believe in “rebirth” and “karma”.
A writer, Lisa miller wrote in article in “Newsweek” in 2009 titled “We are all Hindus now”. She states in that article that as of 2008, 76% of folks in the US are Christians and this is the lowest percentage ever. She wrote that “A Hindu believes that there are many ways to reach God. Jesus is one such way. Quran is another such way. Yoga is another such way. No one way is superior to the other. All ways are equal. However, traditional orthodox Christians have not been able to think like that so far. They believe that only their religion is true. All other religions are false.” According to Harris poll in 2008, 24% of Americans have said that they believe in “rebirth”.
Who should change?
A lot of people have responded to the series of stories and articles that Andhra Jyothy has published for the last six days on the saga of religious conversions in the state.
E-mails, letters and phone calls came in abundance to our office from people of both the religions, social analysts, leaders of caste groups, etc. If we keep aside the criticism, praises, analysis, objections, allegations that we received aside, it was our intention to bring forth to the reader all sides of an issue that is flowing like an undercurrent in our society right now.
We wanted to bring to the attention of our readers the undue influence these forceful conversions, that happen under the guise of “Preaching is a freedom provided by the Constitution”, are having on the mindset of people, their family relations, change is society equations, and finally on political happenings.
Mere conversion is of no use if one’s thoughts haven’t changed much. As long as thought process doesn’t change, the same sad stories will keep repeating. On the one hand we have Dalits who have integrated themselves into other religions, in their fight against discrimination in the Hindu society. On the other hand, upper caste people who have converted still hang on to their last names. What’s strange is that even after generations have passed by since converting, the same old caste fights keep happening!
It is another tragedy that children who suddenly convert because they got a “You are the daughter of God” message don’t even realise their God – their parents are right in the house.
Conversions might happen for any reason. Those who convert from one religion to any other religion because there is a problem; because one might benefit; because one might find good health; or for any other petty reason should always ask themselves if they can show the same discipline towards values, belief and nationality.
This introspection has to be done by both – those who
convert and those who get converted. It is Andhra Jyothy’s hope that religions
change, people change and mindsets change without the pressure of “conversions”.