By BosNewsLife Asia Service with Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
NEW DELH/TIRUNELVELI (BosNewsLife) -- There was uncertainty Monday, April 21, about the status of hundreds of Dalit Christians who church leaders said were likely forced to re-convert to Hinduism, in what organizers called the “first ever mass conversion” in India ’s state of Tamil Nadu.
The April 14 ceremony in the city of Tirunelveli was organized by the ‘Hindu Makkal Katchi’ (HMK), or ‘Hindu Peoples Party’, an influential Hindu political party in the Indian state.
Indian police told media nearly 300 Dalits converted to Hinduism, but HMK leader Arjun Sampath was quoted as saying that “around 800 members from 185 families” - 500 men, 220 women and 80 children, took the decision.
The Dalit Christians, a mix of Protestants and Roman Catholics from villages around Tirunelveli, were originally Hindus who had converted to Christianity five generations back, Indian media said.
Sampath told The Times of India newspaper that the event was organized to coincide with the birthday of late Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, an Indian jurist, scholar, and politician who was seen as the chief architect of the Indian Constitution.
"We purify all those who return to Hinduism by sprinkling” them with special waters “from the sea off Rameswaram and the Ganga for this purpose,'' Sampath told reporters. The HMK chief said he is planning to reconvert 20,000 more Christians in Villupuram district, The Times of India reported.
After Hindu priests were seen sprinkling them with water, Dalits received new clothes and Hindu names. They also received Hindu signs on their forehead.
After the ceremony, converts offered prayers at the famous Swamy Nellaiappar - Gandhimathy Ambal Temple in Tirunelveli, news reports said. Church leaders expressed concerns about the situation in a statement released by The Times of India.
"It is an unfortunate situation. I have requested Catholic Bishops to take remedial steps,” said Priest S Lourdusamy, former executive secretary of the Catholic Bishop Conference of India for the region. “Nothing is being done to stop the discrimination against Dalit Christians. This is resulting in such conversions."
In addition. Evangelical Christians in India say Christianity must not be seen as a religion as it is based on "a personal choice for Jesus Christ" and that no ceremony can change that.
Rights groups claim Dalits, seen as the ‘lowest caste’ in India ’s ancient system of Hinduism, are under pressure to stay in the Hindu-fold.
Those who abandon Hinduism, are currently not enjoying the same government benefits as other religions amid an ongoing legal battle over that issue.
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