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India Dalit Christians "Forced" To Reconvert To Hinduism

Tuesday, April 22, 2008 | Tag Cloud

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.

INDIAN BIRTHDAY

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.

"UNFORTUNATE SITUATION"

"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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Worthy Christian News » Christian Persecution » Christian Persecution - Asia » India Dalit Christians "Forced" To Reconvert To Hinduism

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  1. An
    Open Letter of Indian Dalit Christians to HIS HOLINESS POPE BENEDICT XVI and
    Church Authority

    December
    23, 2011

    Ask,
    and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be
    opened unto you" - St Matthew 7.7

     

    His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI

    Secretariat of State

    00120 Vatican City State - Europe
                                                  

    Wish You a Merry Christmas and New Year

    Your
    Holiness,

    The
    debate related to the status of Christians in India is going on and you are
    already aware of it. There are two points to this wide ranging debate. Firstly,
    social, economic and political status of converted Christians and second is
    growing tension in different parts of country due to conversion related
    activities. The second has more to do with the way catholic church adopts to
    function in the country.

     According to official
    estimates of government, there are 30 million Christians in the country and 70
    percent of this population has directly come from socially and economically
    downtrodden community popularly known as “Dalits”. However, as per unofficial
    figures the population of minority Christians is not less than 60-70 million.
    Irony is that; these people have been constantly suppressed and exploited even
    under the structure of catholic church being led by you (Pope). They are
    ridiculed for their sacrifices made hundreds of years ago for the church. They
    don’t command equal status in the existing structure of church and this has
    made the sacrifices futile. Christianity stresses on the fact that God has
    created people with his own image and this has become founding stone of
    equality of human values in Christian society. But, they are continuously meted
    out differential treatment in the name of caste and birth. In order to catch
    your attention towards these core issues, I am writing this letter to you. I am
    going to discuss first core issue.

     

    Ideology of Church

    Theoretically, there is no place for
    non-equality and racism in the Christianity and when it is attached with
    identity of Catholic Church; the concept of caste automatically vanishes like
    camphor as the word ‘Catholic- means-Universal’. There is only one head of this
    universal community of people and that is none other than representative of
    Vicar of Christ which is responsible for recruitment of Bishops in order to
    guide their disciples. In that way Holy Father/Pope means ‘you’ are responsible
    for maintaining ‘Kingdom of heaven’ on the earth. Now, you should explain me where
    is the place of dirty ideology like casteism and racism in this ‘Kingdom of
    heaven’?

     Deprived class in Indian
    church

    Downtrodden class in India has
    always been victim of unequal treatment, casteism and social exploitation. In
    order to seek solace and relief from their pathetic condition they are still
    coming under the aegis of church for the last 3 or 4 centuries. But, here, too,
    they have been exploited in the name of caste and race. The hope with which
    they had come in the Christianity seems to have forfeited. On the contrary,
    they are now entangled in even deeper quagmire of inequality.

     Church moving opposite
    to the ideology of Christianity

    Catholic Church has completely
    failed in its duty to provide equality and justice to that majority of converted
    people under the structure controlled by you (Pope). The resources have been
    captured by upper-class Christians. After independence of India Catholic Church
    has immensely progressed which is reflected from heavy increase in the number
    of schools, colleges, social institutions, new diocese, Fathers, Bishops, nuns
    and their followers? However, despite this entire progress one thing that has
    not changed is the status of converted Christians.

    Converted Christians are the
    backbone of Catholic Church in India but their participation in the structure
    of Catholic Church is zero. Bishop, Father and Cardinal from this class are
    rare to find and those who somehow managed after hard fought struggle are
    standing marginalized in the society. They are being treated differently by
    their upper-class brothers (Bishops and Fathers).

    Thousands of organizations related to education, health and
    non-governmental organizations are being run by church and right to run these
    institutions has been conferred by Indian constitution. The structure of church
    being run under Vatican (You) has failed to do justice with converted
    Christians.  Understanding the gravity of the situation Pope John Paul-II
    had severely criticized the attitude of unequal treatment and discriminatory approach
    in the church. In 2003, he had said that Bishops were appointed to look after
    lambs and it is their duty to abolish any kind of discrimination prevalent in
    the catholic church.

    Betrayal of faith

    There is widespread anger among converted Christians against
    the policies adopted by the church. They have started demanding their rights
    within the existing structure of church. The response of church has been
    abysmal in this regard. The church leadership has termed this anger
    unjustified. Instead of addressing the genuine concerns of converted Christians
    they have shied away from their responsibilities and are trying to shift it on
    government of India. This is being done in order to fulfill their own ulterior
    motive. By doing so church is pushing these people in the same quagmire of
    caste system.  

    When Indian constitution was being
    framed, constitution makers advocated for reservation of dalit class who were
    victim of caste oppression in the prevalent Hindu system. Majority of Hindu
    people sacrificed their right to equality in favour of their dalit brothers as
    a compensation of injustice meted out to them.

    Your
    Holiness, do your representatives have moral right to betray the faith of those
    who had blindly believed on church and its promises. They have given their
    whole life to church. The story is similar to the poor widow about whom Jesus
    had said to their disciples, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the
    treasury than all the others.  They all gave out of their wealth; but
    she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:
    41-44) we dalit catholic, had also left the facilities (reservation) given by
    Indian government.

    Church should compensate

    Church is now blaming others for its
    failures. When Indian constitution was being framed these converted Christians
    remained in the fold of church and did not switch their loyalties. Within the
    framework of constitution minorities were given special rights and privileges that
    were even unthinkable in USA and Europe. Taking benefit of these rights church
    has enlarged its empire but seems to have forgotten converted Christians.
    Church leadership is trying stifling the just demand of their own people who
    are backbone of the Catholic Church in the country. 

    Now, church leadership has no moral right to bring the
    converted people in the realm of same caste system that has oppressed them for
    centuries. Had they not gone in the fold of church and continued with the Hindu
    system they, too, would have enjoyed benefits bestowed upon them by
    constitution of India and progressed like their other Dalit Hindu brothers in
    the same fashion. 

     

    After government of India, church is
    the only organized entity that can make available jobs but the participation of
    converted Christians is very low and maximum they can get is post of driver,
    cook, clerk, peon and gatekeeper. These jobs, too, can be availed on the mercy
    of Bishops and their condition is no better than slave laborer. I demand from
    church that they should compensate for the injustice and exploitation meted out
    to millions of converted Christians. Vatican had done this in the past and it
    can also be done here. 

    Church should change its policy

    Church has always preferred safe
    trade. It has established thousands of schools, colleges and other
    institutions. This has benefited a lot to church leadership but majority of
    converted Christians have been largely deprived. Even in the field of education
    where church has practically monopoly it has failed to benefit converted
    Christians. We will not stop just after getting few benefits but Dalit
    Christians want their due share in the existing structure. Hindu society is
    changing very fast. Doors of temples are being opened for Dalit Hindus and many
    programmes are being run to abolish ignominious caste system whereas
    Christianity has not been able to do minor changes in its structure. Hindu
    dalits are constantly moving on but this is not the case with converted
    Christian society. Church administration being led by you is pushing them back.
    Perhaps their thinking is to assimilate converted Christians among 300 million
    Hindus. They believe that this will make the task of church leadership easier.
    Why it is that church leadership always seeks solution in putting converted
    Christians in the list of Hindu dalits.

    It is the duty of church leadership
    that process of development should not only be being smooth. It is good to have
    institutions/policy made for the welfare of people. However, it is even more
    important that who are implementing them? Converted Christians should get share
    proportionate to their population. Unless and until this happens their position
    in the society will remain the same and their problems will persist. 

    Your Holiness,

    In the first point I have tried to
    elaborate the first point related to the problems faced by converted
    Christians. In India the relationship between Catholic Church and its followers
    is not based on democratic set-up. Inside the church upper-caste Christians
    have more opportunity to progress than converted Christians. Considering the
    status of these people some fundamental structural changes are needed. At
    present Bishop is the “Key power” and they are appointed by the Vatican and
    that is why they feel themselves more responsible towards Vatican and less
    towards Kalisia. Most of the Catholics are of the view that Bishop should be
    elected by Kalisia and not by the Vatican so that they could be made more
    responsible towards their people. 

     

    Evangelization and escalating tension

    Recently, for the sake of safety and
    security of Christian society you have appealed to Hindu society that they
    should stand-up against condemnable hate propaganda against Christians and
    should pave the way for religious freedom. Your concerns are genuine as tension
    between Christians and people from other faith has escalated over the years and
    at some places it has even taken violent turn. Be it ignominious incident of
    burning of Graham Stains with his two children in 1999 or Kandhmal riots or
    violence at some other place. Indian society has always opposed violence on the
    name of caste or religion. Indian government has acted swiftly whenever such
    incidents have taken place. Perpetrators of crime have been punished. Government
    has also constituted various commissions in this regard and their reports have
    been startling.

    India has always been glorious
    symbol of tolerance and has shown respect for all religions and faiths with the
    feeling of amicable co-existence. There is no place for non-tolerant faith
    among majority of Hindu community. Every citizen respects fundamental right of
    religious freedom of other people.

    Many commissions constituted by
    government on the wake of violent instances against Christians have also indicated
    towards imperialistic nature of church. There is an urgent need for
    introspection on the method of propagation of Christian faith as they have
    become instruments of growing tension with people of other faith. We can stop
    this by changing the current practices by the church and help create amicable
    atmosphere. 

    Freedom of church in India

    Indian church and Christians have
    rights that are not even available to European church. In the matters related
    to Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and other religions there is some government
    intervention. For example, properties of religious institutions in Muslims are
    looked after by Waqf board. Similarly, religious properties in Sikhs are also
    managed according to Indian law. Government has direct control over the income
    of big temples and this money is spent on upliftment of deprived class. 

    But, government has no intervention
    in matters pertaining to Christians. Bishops are appointed by you and Vatican
    and Fathers/Bishops has ownership over huge assets and resources of church.
    Though, even in Europe many countries have control over the properties of
    church. India is one such country where church enjoys immense religious
    freedom. 

     

    Introspection of evangelization
    policy is necessary. 

    Recently, Pontifical Council for Inter-religious
    Dialogue has raised few questions about status of religious freedom in India.
    The indication was towards anti-conversion law made by few states in India.
    Church is facing difficulty after enactment of this law. They should understand
    that Indian constitution allows anybody to follow faith of his/her choice and
    even allows propagation of religion. But, nobody can justify conversion of
    scheduled caste and tribes under the garb of social service. There is a thin
    line between propagation of once faith and conversion. If state gives absolute
    freedom to those who have sole motive of conversion then it is the duty of the
    state to intervene in the matter. This becomes all the more important
    considering wherever conversion has taken place in large number social tension
    has increased.

    This year Vatican had convened a
    meeting of various heads of faiths in Assisi of Italy on October 27. In this
    meeting Indian representation had tried to attract the attention of Vatican
    towards conversion. As a matter of fact if Vatican really wants amicable
    solution to various problems faced by Christianity then it is the church that
    will have to play larger role in the process. 

     

    Development of converted Christians
    should be goal of church

    Your Holiness,

    Theoretically in Christianity
    advocates for equality but in practice reality is starkly different. 
    Discriminatory caste policies of Catholic Church fail the basic motive of
    Christianity. In reality, condition of converted Christians worsens after
    conversion. Church should bring a White Paper on the matter that how much
    church has progressed after independence and how much progress converted
    Christians have made during the same period. 

    Church receives huge donation in the name of social service
    and development of disciples of the faith but hardly anything has changed on
    the ground. This is certainly a food for thought that where this money goes?

    Poor Christian Liberation Movement (PCLM) an umbrella
    organization of Dalit Christians is of the view that church officials don’t
    want to leave any benefit currently enjoyed by them at any cost. They are not
    at all concerned with the betterment of converted Christians. This is why there
    is no hint of betterment of the status of this community even in distant
    future. The current system harbours inequality. That is why it will be wrong to
    expect that things will change in near future.

    Converted Christians are looking towards you with lot of
    hope and we request you to take concrete step for the change in fundamental
    structure of church.

    Yours in
    Christ

     

    R L Francis

    President

    Poor Christian Liberation Movement (PCLM)

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