MEETING THE THREAT OF CONVERSION
EFFORTS AIMED AT reducing the Hindu population through proselytisation by Muslim and Christian agencies have remained, even after the British left, a source of grave threat to our national security and integrity. However, the growing awareness of this threat over the years, has put the Hindus on the alert. For the first time in history, huge Hindu conferences organised by VHP and allied Hindu bodies have been demanding that the Government impose a ban on conversions through illegal and immoral means. Public pressure also is mounting for the expulsion of foreign Christian missionaries and an immediate ban on the flow of foreign money for such proselytising agencies working under various humanitarian garbs.
It is noteworthy that some time ago, at the Consultative Committee meeting of the Central Home Ministry, representatives of all parties except the Muslim League demanded a legislation to stop the flow of foreign funds into the hands of private agencies.
Many conversion-prone areas in the country have already started experiencing the impact of Hindu resistance to conversion. To give the most talked-about instance of recent times: the country was shocked with the news of Islamic mass conversion of about 800 Hindus in February 1981, in Meenakshipuram in Tamil Nadu. In the wake of Meenakshipuram euphoria, the Isha-ad-ul Islam Sabha of South India which had engineered the conversions there claimed that over a hundred thousand Harijans in Tamil Nadu were on their toes to walk into their parlour.
The wave of conversions sweeping the southern parts of Tamil Nadu at that moment was indeed alarming. Hindu organisations dike the Sangh, the Hindu Munnani, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Arya Samaj, the Hindu Samudaya Valarchi Manram, the Hindu Temple Protection Committee and other Hindu social and religious organisations immediately swung into action. They formed themselves into 'Hindu Ottrumai Maiyam' (Centre for Hindu Unity). Soon an RSS study team visited and surveyed all the affected villages in the four districts of Tamil Nadu; and on the basis of that report, the HOM decided to launch a widespread movement for stopping further conversions and to reclaim to the Hindu fold all those who had been converted.
In the meanwhile, a shocking piece of news reached the Sangh workers at Madurai, that a large number of Harijan Hindus - a hundred thousand from all over Ramanathapuram districtwere scheduled to assemble at Mudukalattur to take a decision on embracing Islam en masse. The Harijan leaders of Tirunelveli and Madurai districts were also invited to the meeting where a call to embrace Islam was intended to be given to the Harijan community in general. They had invited Swami Ramdas, a highly respected ma,thadhipati from Malaysia, to guide their deliberations. The Swami, hailing from the same Mudukalattur tehsil and the same community, was well versed in the Tamil lore and Hindu scriptural texts. He too was in a tormented mood over the predicament of Harijans. He was at a loss to know how best to guide his followers.
The Sangh and VHP leaders, who had overnight hastened to his place, explained to him the various constructive measures initiated by the Hindu organisations and several prominent mathadhipatis to secure justice to the Harijans and accord them a status of equality and dignity in Hindu society. All this was highly gladdening and reassuring news to the Swamiji, who later on succeeded in considerably assuaging the inflamed tempers of the Harijan leaders. He convinced them of the sincere efforts being made by the workers of the Sangh and VHP and many mathadhipatis to accord honourable treatment to them.
The Swamiji himself later on participated whole-heartedly in the Hindu Solidarity Conference at Ramanathapuram. Having personally experienced absolute equality of treatment with the other traditional Hindu mathadhipatis and senior Sangh and VHP workers at the conference, he agreed to the latter's request to postpone his return journey to Malaysia and join them in the tour of the villages. This was followed by Hindu Unity Conferences, attended by leaders and representatives of all castes and sects in large numbers. Equality and harmony became the one stirring note of all their exhortations. Religious and social leaders began visiting the neglected brethren. They enquired about their problems, and comforted them by assuring them of equality and dignity in social life. Most important of all, they refurbished their faith in Hindu Dharma.
As a result of these efforts, the spectre of mass conversion was laid low in Tamil Nadu even though stray cases are still being reported from far-flung villages. But whenever such news leaks out, alert Hindu workers reach there promptly to stop further mischief. For example, in Sivakashi, there was to be a mass baptism. When the news reached the Swayamsevaks they rushed to the place and saw to it that not a single Hindu left the Hindu fold. A most encouraging feature was that the local Hindu population also stood by the Swayamsevaks as one man in this attempt to save their Hindu brethren.
In Kerala too, the rising Hindu awareness is at work. Ponani, a coastal town in Kerala, is a notorious centre of Islamic conversion for the entire south, where the headquarters of Munavar Ul Islam Sabha is situated. Men, women and children are lured, kidnapped and brought there for conversion. With the spread of Shakhas, however, the Swayamsevaks and other Hindus have started apprehending them at the railway station or bus-stand and thwarting such attempts.
In the wake of quitting of the British, the foreign Christian missions had in fact felt that their game was up. They even began making preparations to leave Bharat, but soon the Government's 'secular' policy came as an unexpected boon. They were not only allowed to carry on their activities as before, but even new areas so far forbidden to them, like those of certain Hindu principalities were thrown open to them. With the result, Christian missionary efforts at proselytisation have now become far more widespread and insidious. In all, about 100,000 missionaries - 9,400 foreign and the rest local - are now engaged in divisive and subversive activities under the mask of various kinds of service projects.
The vanavasi areas in the country can roughly be divided into three parts: the North-East, Chotanagpur and the rest. Out of these, the dangerous fall-out of missionary activities is particularly felt in the North-Eastern region where small states have been carved out under the pressure of separatist movements engineered by the foreign Christian missions. While some of them like Nagaland, Mizoram and Meghalaya have already become virtually Christian States' insurgent movements have been taking on more aggressive forms all over the North-Eastern region with demands for newer states.
The sense of alienation from the national mainstream that the janajatis (the 'tribals') now feel is mainly due to the handiwork of the British. Those areas were declared as 'protected' and kept out of bounds for all others except the Christian missionaries. The geographical isolation of the janajatis residing in those deep jungles and valleys has added to their difficulties in facing the hostile religious and cultural onslaught of the missionaries. Further, the janajatis are themselves divided into 182 groups. They speak different dialects, live in different environments and face different problems. As such, among themselves also there is little communication.
Unfortunately, even after Independence, the Government has been treading in the same footprints as those of the erstwhile British rulers. While the converts from janajati Hindus are designated in the census as Christians, the rest are enumerated as merely various 'tribal' entities as distinct from Hindus. Government its led by the assumption, insidiously set afloat by the foreign missionaries that since the janajatis worship trees, stones and serpents' they are 'animists' and cannot be called Hindus.
Gandhiji had said, "We are strangers to this sort of classificationanimists, aboriginals, etc.but we have learnt it from the English rulers. These tribes have from time immemorial been absorbed in Hinduism. They are like the indigenous medicine of the soil and their roots lie deep there." Even Census Commissioners like Herbert Rislay (1901), Census Officers P.C. Talents in Bihar and Sedgwick in Bombay (1921) had stated that no line of demarcation could be drawn between 'Hinduism' and 'animism' and that separate mention of tribal religions should be done away with and tribals joined with the rest of the Hindus.
Shri Guruji nailed the pernicious propaganda of 'tribal separatism' squarely on the head. He said, "The argument of 'animism' is something which only an ignoramus who does not know the a, b, c of Hinduism would advance. The word 'animus' means the principle of life that is immanent in all creation. Whatever be its form of expression, it is that Inherent Spirit that is worshipped. Do not the Hindus all over the country worship the tree? Tulasi, Bilva, Ashwattha are all sacred to the Hindu. In the Bhagavad-Gita, Shri Krishna, while naming the forms in which the indwelling spirit is more manifest than in others, has pointed to Ashwattha among the trees. He has also spoken of the serpent and various kinds of animals and birds, and so also of mountains and rivers. Shri Krishna closes the series of such manifestations saying: 'Every such element as is endowed with glory, brilliance or power, know that to be a manifestation of a spark of My Divine Effulgence.'
"The worship of Nag, the Cobra, is prevalent throughout our country. In the South there are huge temples of Lord Subrahmanya, the name given to Nag there. Then, should we term all these devotees and worshippers as 'animists' and declare them as non-Hindus?" - Shri Guruji challenged.
There is an interesting instance of how this Hindu appeal basic to all janajatis works wonders. When Rani Ma Gaidinliu, the celebrated Naga freedom fighter and leader of Zeliangrong Heraka Movement, was invited to the World Hindu Meet at Prayag organised by the VHP in January 1979, she was taken aback. How could she, an 'animist' and not a 'Hindu', be invited to an avowedly Hindu conference? She questioned and pleaded her inability. However, when the Parishad workers explained to the Rani the Hindu viewpoint, it appealed to her immensely. She participated in the conference along with her devoted disciples. In her short but emotion-filled speech, she reminded the audience of the immense sacrifices made by the past freedom fighters including those from the Nagaland. At the end she appealed, "But the foreign missionaries are nibbling away at our freedom. Preachers of Hindu Dharma should reach those parts in large numbers to defeat their designs." The Rani was so greatly impressed that she has now become a source of inspiration to the Hindu resurgence movement in that region.
The remarks of an old Khasi lady from Meghalaya who attended the conference were significant: "When we live here (i.e., in Shillong) we feel ourselves overwhelmed by the growing number of Christians all around us. We are also falsely told that the rest of the country is already totally converted to Christianity. But, at the Vishwa Hindu Sammelan at Allahabad, I realised that Hindu society is like a great ocean. If a wave of that ocean comes rising over Meghalaya, the speck of Christianity that is here would be submerged in no time."
Here is another instance of how the chaste Hindu atmosphere strikes a sympathetic chord in the hearts of such sections. N. C. Jaliang, an MLA from Nagaland, had come as a guest to the training camp organised by the VKA in 1981 at New Delhi. In his inaugural address, he had mooted the idea of forming a non-Christian Front to face the Christian manoeuvrings in his State. However, at the close of the camp, he said that he was feeling himself very much a Hindu, instead of being a mere 'non-Christian.'
The wave of cultural renaissance generated by the efforts of Sangh Swayamsevaks has given birth to the Bharatiya Janajati Samskritik Manch (Indian Tribal Cultural Forum) in the NorthEastern region. It seeks to tackle both types of isolation of the janajati brethren - that from the mainstream of Bharatiya ways of life and that among their own several different entities. Even while trying to pull down these artificial barriers, it encourages, in the true spirit of 'unity in diversity' of the Bharatiya culture, the formation of separate tribal bodies for each tribe to deal with its own particular problems, maintain and refurbish its own religious practices and its traditional ways of life and popularise its literature.
The last mentioned programme has been found to be effective in loosening the octopus-like grip of Christian missionary propaganda. At present, the Bible, translated into the local tribal languages (using the Roman script), is taught to the janajatis in all their educational institutions. As for the Government institutions, only secular education is imparted. As a result, the janajatis have been denied the opportunity to instruct their children in the fundamentals of their ancestral faith. The void created in their hearts by the absence of such faith makes them fall a prey to Christian proselytisers.
As a result of the Forum's endeavours, regeneration of their pristine spiritual and cultural values among the various janajati groups has been quickened. Under Rani Ma Gaidinliu's guidance, the three main branches among the Nagasthe Jemi, the Rengmai and the Zeliang - are coming together in a common movement. They call it 'Heraka', i.e., 'the Pure Faith'. The Heraka Conference, organised in January 1981 by the Heraka Council with the support of the ITC Forum, proved historic. The three-day conference was attended by more than 2000 Naga delegates drawn from 81 villages of the three States of Assam, Nagaland and Manipur. Some of the delegates had to walk for six days to reach Kokairam, the Naga village in North Cachar Hills district of Assam, where the conference was held, and had to walk back again all the way. This was also the first occasion when the Khasi religious leaders mingled with their Naga brethren and recognised their common spiritual bonds.
The Heraka Council has, at its annual conference held on 1-2 February 1988, put its official seal of sanction on the growing Hindu awareness among the Heraka followers by resolving that "Heraka, which in reality is Hindu, is the only religious faith amonz the Nagas to preserve Naga traditional beliefs, customs and culture. Heraka Association will work as a part of Hindu organisation in all matters."
The Saraswati Shishu Mandir at Haflong, having mainly Naga boys, has won the hearts of the village elders. A few years ago, when the Government officers and the Governor himself tried to persuade them to part with a particular piece of land for a fruit-juice factory, they rejected the offer and instead allotted the eight bighas of that plot free to the school. They said, "A school for our children run by a Hindu mission, with our own mother tongue as the medium of instruction, is of more value to us than some economic benefits."
The village Tayning has a school and a medical centre run by the VE`A with the assistance of Heraka Naga leaders. For a population of 3,000, the village has two huge residential schools, one of the Roman Catholics and the other of the Baptists. The Ashram school has a substantial number of Christian children of the Baptist Church. The Vice-Chairman of the Town Committee, a Baptist Christian, explaining why he preferred to send his wards to the Hindu school instead of to his own Church school, said, "I know that in the Ashram school, prayer to Saraswati is offered. Samskrit and Hindi are taught. However, while in the Baptist and the Catholic schools more stress is laid on Bible-teaching, more attention is paid here to the studies and behaviour of the children."
In fact, the elders find nothing amiss in the assimilation o the traditional Hindu modes by their children in the Ashram school. Once a teacher of the school on his morning stroll heard 'Ya kundendu-tushara-hara-dhavald....' emanating from a hut. He peeped in and found a boy of his school sitting in padmasana with palms joined in the namaskar posture reciting the Saraswati stotra that he had learnt as part of the school prayer; the picture before which he was sitting was of Jesus. Needless to say, he was a boy from a Christian Naga family.
The vanavasi parents in Nagaland and North-Eastern States have started gladly sending their wards to hostels run by the VKA in provinces like Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.
The other important group is of the Khasis, fifty per cent of whom have already been converted to Christianity. The converts have cornered all the education, positions of profit and political privileges, pushing the Khenzi Khasis into second-grade citizenship. Of late, however, the spirit of self-awareness and pride has been gathering force among the latter. Seng Khasi, formed towards the close of last century, has preserved the fire of their faith in their own tradition and culture. Jeebon Roy, a great Indian patriot, was the first moving spirit behind it. A great educationist, scholar and thinker, he wrote, translated and published books on subjects like the Khasi faith, Ramayana, Bhagavad-Gita and the lives of Buddha and Shri Chaitanya. The present leader of Seng Khasi and of the ITC Forum is Hipshon Roy who is able to measure up to the challenges that the conversion has posed. He is bringing home to his Khasi brethren how Christianisation has meant Westernisation resulting in the deculturalisation of their time-honoured ways of life.
H. Onderson Maurie is another dynamic leader of Seng Khasi and of the ITC Forum. He is the Headmaster of Nongkrem High School in Meghalaya. A thinker and philosopher of great depth, he is also a powerful orator. He warns his people that it would be suicidal for them to build on others' foundation. Maurie affirms that because of their present awakening, conversion of Khasis to Christianity has almost totally stopped and the return process - "home-coming" - has, for the first time, started. "Now we are on the offensive, they are on the defensive", he says quietly.
Here is an instance to show which way the wind is blowing. In Meghalaya, the dominating Christian influence, which had been taken for granted so far, is now resented and even challenged. Commanding a big majority in the Assembly and administration, the Government was all along celebrating Christmas Day as a State function without let or hindrance. Government offices and the Assembly House used to be illuminated as if Meghalaya was a Christian State. in 1979, the Khasis bestirred themselves. They submitted a memorandum to the Chief Minister objecting to this practice as being against the secular spirit of the Indian Constitution; copies were sent to the Prime Minister and the Union Home Minister. The effect was visible the very next year. . The Meghalaya Government had to issue a circular to all government offices that no govemment building shall in future be used for religious celebration.
In contrast to the denationalising impact of Christianity, how do our various janajati brethren view the Hindu impact? Onderson Maurie, contrasting the Christian with the Hindu impact, says:
"In the case of the former, the physical and the cultural conquests are closely and inseparably inter-related, whereas in the case of the Hindu, the janajati cultural specialities have not suffered in the least for ages. True, while some of the janajati groups have no hesitation in calling themselves Hindus, a few others like the Khasis are still reluctant to do so. But even the latter frankly declare that among the Bharatiya faiths, the 'Hindu' faith is like their 'elder sister'."
Seng Khasi, in one of its issues, wrote: "During the British regime every one of the European writers had sought to project the worst type of distorted and vulgar picture of the NorthEastern region. They never uttered a single word about the tolerant, generous attitude of the Hindus. The attitude of the Hindu Dharma towards our Khasi faith has been more than motherly."
The last sentence indeed highlights the degree of emotional integration achieved by the ITC Forum and a measure of its wholesome influence.
Due to the incessant efforts of the Forum, healthy trends are seen among many other janajatis also. In Arunachal Pradesh, it is Tum Pak Ete who has taken the initiative in its campaign. He had resigned a lucrative government job even before he joined the ITC Forum and dedicated himself to bringing out the excellence hidden in the religious literature of his Adi janajati. Tne coming up of the Adi Research Centre is the fruit of his devoted labours.
A section of the Karbi janajatis has begun to receive new light on their ancestral Vaishnav faith through Lakbimon Sangh. A section of the Bodos in the plains have started celebrating their traditional 'Batho Pooja' (Panchamukhi Shiva Pooja) in increasing numbers and with mounting enthusiasm, while the other section, who call themselves 'Brahm', are taking to Yajna.
Another important area which VKA workers have opened up for highlighting the common Bharatiya identity of the janajatis is in respect of their ancient folklore, folk songs and folk tales.
The Karbis consider themselves as the descendants of Vali and Sugriva and the Tiwas are proud of being the descendants of Sita. The Mishmis of Arunachal Pradesh trace their ancestry to Rukmini and through her to Shri Krishna.
In 1988, a seminar was organised by the Guwahati University on 'Rama-katha among the Janajatis of North-East', wherein a paper on the Rama-katha prevalent among Mizos was read by the Principal of Aizwal College, a Christian Mizo. The Rama-katha is replete with episodes of Rama, Sita, Lakshmana, Hanuman, etc., and the killing of Ravana. A mantra in Mizo says, "Oh, rice, you have been created by Rama and Lakshmana to propound the Truth. So tell us what is Truth (this, three times)."
The VKA workers who are collecting such material propose to urge the concerned educational authorities to include them in the school curriculum so as to strengthen the feeling of oneness of those people with the rest of the country.
A significant fact with regard to the language of janajati brethren is most encouraging. A majority of the illiterate people among the janajatis understand Hindi, however elementary, and not English. At present, English is being pushed down their throats by the governmental agencies and the missionaries. However, as days pass, it is Hindi which promises to become the natural link language between the various groups. Once Hindi comes in, Devanagari script too is bound to become popular for their dialects, replacing the Roman script. The Bodos have accepted Devanagari for their script and very recently the Dimaches and the Jemi Nagas have also adopted the same as their script. While the Karbis have been using Assamiya script, the Tripuris make use of Bengali alphabets.
The Poorvanchal Hindu Conference at Guwahati in February 1982 turned a new page in the history of the North-Eastern region. On that occasion, Hindus from the plains rubbed shoulders with representatives of over 20 janajati groups. It gave a tremendous boost to the process of national integration going on silently in the region. Such repeated experiences are making the various janajati groups realise that their identity is safe within the Hindu fold. By contrast, they are also realising that conversion to Christianity sucks them into a nameless, faceless replica of Western habits and tastes; their age-old values are not only obliterated but despised. It is this shocking realisation that is making even the converted janajatis sit up and think.
Some years ago, a Naga cultural delegation, which included the Chief Minister's wife, visited America. The members were all Christians. In a congregation they were asked to sing Naga music. When the wife of the Chief Minister sang a song they remarked, "This is our Western Pop music. We want to hear a traditional Naga song." She felt ashamed while replying that as she was a Christian, she had given up all indigenous customs and did not know any Naga music. The Americans felt shocked and asked: "What if you have changed your faith? Have you ceased to be Nagas?" After her return to Bharat, the lady told the then Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh at a meeting that though they had become Christians the people outside expect them to adhere to their ancestral cultural traditions and heritage.
In Manipur, secessionist elements, under the name of Maitheyi and People's Liberation Army, have been trying to inject into the minds of Manipuris the belief that they are Maitheyis and not Hindus and that Manipur was never a part of Bharat. They claim that their religion, their customs, language and script are all totally different, and as such fall outside the ambit of Bharatiya life. This separatist wind began blowing fiercely from the early sixties. Holy texts like Ramayana, Mahabharata and Bhagavad-Gita were decried and dishonoured; they were, at places, even set on fire. At one place, one of the ministers too had joined in burning the copies.
However, the VHP decided to extinguish this fire of disruption. Towards this end, a huge Hindu Conference was organised at Imphal in 1981. Attended by all sections of Hindus in thousands, it gave a powerful thrust to the movement of Hindu consolidation and helped significantly in subduing the antiHindu, anti-national appeal of separatist Maitheyism. The annual Maha-Shivaratri festival, which had been suspended because of the attacks of the secessionists, was revived from the next year onwards with renewed fervour and enthusiasm.
There are elements even among the insurgents who feel the glow of the work of Hindu missionaries. The Saraswati Shishu Mandirs run by the VKA in Manipur are very popular and have a total strength of 1,700 at present (1988). Once, when a couple of insurgents happened to meet some persons running the school, they frankly told them: "We are not opposed to your project. In fact, we want our children to grow up in such a healthy and noble environment."
Then there is the amazing experience of a worker of VKA of Silchar, in Cachar District, who had gone on a visit to Mizoram to survey the conditions of janajatis there. In a village, known for its insurgent activities, the local Christian janajatis surrounded him and began closely questioning him about his background, the nature of the Kalyan Ashram work, his intention in coming over there, etc. The worker found himself in a soup. When one of the janajatis invited him to his house, his apprehensions became even more grave. Being in no position to say 'no', he quietly followed him. Inside the house, the janajati brought him a drink. The worker now felt that it might well be his 'last drink'! However, his fears soon gave way to intense relief and happiness when the host took out Rs. 500 and offered him the same, saying: "Please take this for your noble work. But I feel you have come to us too late. You should have reached here 30 years earlier." Of course, the Kalyan Ashram worker knew that it was never too late!
The ABVP too has been active in this direction. It has pitched upon the impressionable and unpolluted student community to pioneer the movement for their emotional integration with the rest of the country. In 1966, the ABVP workers met Vishnu Sahai, Governor of Assam, and submitted its scheme of Inter-State Living for Students. In May that year, eighty students from Manipur, Meghalaya, Assam, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh came and stayed with different families in Bombay.
It was in Bombay that these students from the North-East realised that they belonged to sixteen different janajati groups, speaking sixteen different dialects. It was also there that for the first time they met one another. The present Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh, Gegang Apang, was among them. When a batch of Arunachal students again came to Bombay, Apang, who was then the P.W.D. Minister, was deputed by the Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister, P. K. Thungon. Apang visited the host family in Bombay where he had stayed for one month in 1966. The family members were overjoyed to receive him as fan honoured guest' from Arunachal Pradesh. However, Apang was quick to correct them saying that he was not a guest but very much a son of the family, only coming from Arunachal Pradesh.
Since then this unique project, 'Students Experience in Inter-State Living' (SEIL) has become an annual feature of the ABVP. In December 1980, 30 students from different parts of the North-Eastern region were invited to visit other parts of Bharat. At every place, top men in the educational and literary fields, lecturers and students, joined in extending a hearty welcome to them. Mole than the felicitation in universities, they were deeply touched by the deep affection showered on them by the mothers who welcomed them to their homes like their own kith and kin and served them with various types of delicacies.
What astonished the Khasi students, specially, was the extraordinary interest displayed by one and all in trying to know the salient features of the Khasi faith and tradition. However, they felt piqued for not being able to satisfy their curiosity. This made them more introspective and spurred them to know themselves better and deeper. On their return they are turning more and more to Seng Khasi, a socio-religious institution, for that purpose. Consequently the Seng Khasi programmes, which were till now popular only among the elderly Khasis, have now been eliciting enthusiastic response from young men and women also.
Every year, SEIL attracts new students, involving different states and programmes- all of them directed towards reawakening and reinforcing the common cultural identity of North-Eastern States with the rest of Bharat. So far, ten such batches have visited different parts of the country. This has been reciprocated by the visit of four batches from the other parts to the North-East and one to Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
The SEIL slogan 'Alag bhasha alag vesh phir bhi apna ek desh' (Language and dress may be different, but our nation is one) seems to have made a deep impression on the participants. In 1987, the Khasi Students Union went about terrorising and driving out the non-janajati Hindus from Meghalaya. Two Khasi girls, who had previously participated in the SEIL programme, stood up and faced the student mob in defence of a non-janajati doctor serving in a Seng Khasi hospital. The same spirit was witnessed in all its youthful exuberance when students of other parts went to the North-Eastern States in 1987. The local janajati boys and girls in Haflong, Shillong, Itanagar and other places welcomed them at railway stations and bus-stands with 'Bharat Mata ki jai'. Hearing the spirited chants by the janajati student mass, Hipshon Roy exclaimed: "I had never thought that I would hear the slogan Bharat Mata ki jai in Khasiland."
The second large tract of vanavasis in Chotanagpur region had also been cordoned off by the British declaring it as halfexcluded areas. Conversions among the vanavasis had been going on there, both at the individual level and en masse. The missionaries pitched upon the village chiefs; if they were converted, the entire village would follow. Every physical want and disability - hunger, disease, poverty, unemployment or destitution - used to be taken advantage of by the missionaries. Giving Christian names to the Hindu children admitted into their schools was another fraud indulged in by them. The oppression to which the vanavasis of Jashpur in Madhya Pradesh were subjected by the Christian missionaries can be imagined by the fact that when one of them went riding on a horse, he would lash with his whip anyone who did not salute him - a practice which continued even after Independence.
However, now, wherever the VKA units have started functioning, conversion on mass scale has been totally stopped and cases of individual conversions are also perceptibly reduced. An incident may be recalled here. Observance of Indal Pooja, a traditional festival in Madhya Pradesh, had been abandoned by the vanavasis because of the enormous expenditure it involved. The Christian missionaries had stepped in and begun arranging the Pooja in their Church, with a view to bringing the innocent Hindu vanavasis under their net. The VKA stopped the mischief by organising the Pooja in its pristine form and with minimum expense.
As in some other areas, in Jashpur also, distribution of several articles given by the Government for the poor and needy is being done through the missionary agencies. Recently a petition signed by 25,000 vanavasis has been submitted to the District Collector, protesting against this discriminatory practice.
In Rajasthan, Tibede Bada, a village in Bansvada district, had become a Christian stronghold. Even the Hindu vanavasis had started greeting each other with 'Jai Isu'. But a sannyasin who reached there on behalf of VKA soon changed all that. Now, the practice there is 'Jai Sita Ram'. Ramlila, during Dasara, has also become very popular there.
In the wake of expulsion of a Belgian missionary recently, a loud hue and cry was raised by the Christian missionaries all over the country. In Bihar, the Christian missions closed down their schools as a protest and threatened that they would remain closed till the expulsion order was revoked. The Sangh and VKA workers launched a powerful propaganda offensive and organised massive protest demonstrations by the school students, exposing the anti-national nature of the Christian blackmail and urging the Government to take over the Christian schools. The Government too issued a notice to the Christian missions warning of dire consequences in case the schools were not opened immediately. Thereupon the missions beat a retreat and reopened the schools.
The leadership of the movement for a separate Jharkhand State in Chotanagpur area had, for long, gone entirely into the hands of the Christian missions. The Hindu vanavasis were also willynilly drawn into their camp. But with the spread of VKA activities, a gradual change is now taking place. The Hindu vanavasis are moving away from the missionary hold and have started projecting their own leadership. There is now hope that the movement would not turn violent or anti-national.
The first to take steps at the governmental level in uncovering the ulterior motive behind Christian missionary activities was the Govemment of Madhya Pradesh. In mid-fifties, it appointed a commission headed by Justice Bhavani Shankar Niyogi for that purpose. A senior Sangh pracharak working in Madhya Pradesh took upon himself the task of mobilising the necessary witnesses. It was mainly because of his efforts that about 5,000 vanavasis and others could adduce evidence in person before the Commission. That help proved crucial for the Commission in preparing a well-documented and authentic report which laid bare the underlying motive of the Christian missionary activities. For the first time, because of that historic report, the nefarious activities indulged in by the Christian missionaries came to light.
The Madhya Pradesh Government followed up the Commission's Report with a legislation prohibiting illegal and forcible conversions in the State. But, in the absence of corresponding steps by the Centre, the missionary activities have gone on unhampered all over the country.
More recently, the Justice Venugopal Commission, which inquired into the riots at Mandaikadu in Kanyakumari district in March 1982, has made the pertinent observation that conversion activities carried on there by the Christian Church was the main reason for the clashes between Christians and the Hindus. The Commission has advised the Tamil Nadu Government to ban conversions and to urge the Central Government to do likewise in the whole country. But so far nothing has come out of it.
The Hindu awakening has not stopped merely at alerting and organising remedial programmes. It has gone one step further. It is strenuously seeking to rectify the suicidal outlook vis-a-vis reconversion entrenched in the Hindu psyche. The orthodox opinion had so far held that there is no religious sanction for taking the converted back into the Hindu fold. Thus, for centuries, the one-way traffic from the Hindu to other religions had gone on unchecked. The present Damocles' sword of Kashmir problem hanging over our head can be traced directly to this self-destructive outlook. About a hundred years ago in Kashmir, the pandits had stopped the King from taking back the entire Muslim community who had volunteered to return to Hinduism.
Doubtless, some of our far-seeing religious and social reformers in the past and in recent times did make heroic efforts to break this self-imposed shackle. The movement was given a powerful thrust by eminent leaders of Hindu renaissance like Swami Dayananda, Swami Shraddhananda and Veer Savarkar in this century itself which certainly had its own impact. However, the Hindu mind in general took time to realise its crucial importance. And even those who had come back could not be fully assimilated into the Hindu fold.
Shri Guruji decided to pick up the thread where it had been left by the previous stalwarts. He began pursuing the movement especially in the crucial direction of suitably changing the psychology of our people. On the occasion of his 51st birthday celebration, he gave a call that set the ball rolling. He termed those who had been converted out of fear of death, coercion or various temptations of power, position, etc., as victims of 'religious slavery'. He declared it was the mad zeal of the invaders for increasing their numbers to make way for political domination that lay at the root of such conversions.
Efforts to persuade our religious and social leaders to give a positive lead to our people in this direction have started yielding results.
The mammoth Hindu World conference organised by VHP at Prayag in 1966 created history. Heads of maths, dharmacharyas and leading sadhus representing all shades of Hindu religious and philosophical thought unanimously resolved to revoke the centuries-old religious ban on reconversion. At the end of the resolution, thunderous applause greeted Shri Pejawar Mathadheesh of Udupi, Karnataka, when he uttered the new mantra - "Na Hinduh patito bhavet". The mantra succinctly stated that a Hindu is never fallen, thereby rectifying the misconception held so long that the converted person was 'a fallen soul' who could not be taken back. The new mantra decreed that the mere fact of his change of faith cannot take away his basic Hindu identity. This declaration was nothing short of a new smriti - a fresh interpretation of the ancient shastras in tune with the demands of modern times and in the interest of social consolidation.
The various swamijis have been following up this declaration by presiding over the paravartan ceremonies and blessing the home-comers. The word paravartan, popularised by the VHP, correctly portrays the nature of the home-coming process. Paravartan emphasises the attitude of looking upon the converted as our own brothers and sisters whom we have to welcome home with all love.
It is common knowledge that conversions to non-Hindu faiths have all along been carried out by illegal and immoral means. In the past, under the Muslim rule, every possible tactics of coercion was employed. The frauds played by the Christian missionaries in later years are also too well known. Gandhiji used to call the Christian converts as 'rice-Christians'. Especially in the case of those converted en masse, their new-found faith has been found to be only skin-deep and their ancient Hindu religious moorings, on the other hand, still firm in their hearts. As such it has been found that the most effective way to remind the poor and unlettered converts of their Hindu roots and infuse courage in them to return to their mother faith, is to stir up their latent religious memories.
The Jagannath Rath Yatra which traversed extensively in the vanavasi villages of Phulbani, Ganjam, Koraput, Sundargarh, Keonjhar and Mayurbhanj districts became a potent factor in rousing the latent devotion and collective will of the vanavasis - the Hindus and Christians alike. The massive dimensions of the Yatra can be gauged from the fact that between March 1986 and May 1988 it covered about a thousand places, each centre attracting 3 to 4 thousand people, thus amounting to a total of 3 to 4 million participants. Expenses for the programmes were met by the local people which totalled up to Rs. 3 to 4 million. Inaugural functions at five places during the same period were attended by 6.5 Iakh vanavasis. The dharmic awakening so generated is now being put on an enduring organisational footing by the VHP and VKA through Kirtan Mandalis, Satsangs and Yuvak Kendras. So far, 1,600 such units, managed by 500 committees, have come up.
The Prakalpa Samanvaya Samiti of Orissa is the guiding and coordinating fulcrum for all these activities of several religious and service-oriented organisations. Besides running a regular school for 120 students at Chakapad and 3 student hostels, 20 weekly balwadis and 300 night schools have started functioning. Medicine distribution centres including three mobile vans cater to nearly 20,000 patients a month.
All this could not have left the Christian vanavasis unaffected. During the same period about 15,000 of them have returned to the Hindu fold.
In Madhya Pradesh, too, hundreds of Christian vanavasis join the yajnas, yagas and congregational worship of Indra carried out by VKA. This has resulted in more than 2,000 of them returning to Hinduism. While in Maharashtra, about 4,000 have responded to the call of their ancestral faith, in Bihar over 13,000 have come back. In the South too, in Andhra there have been paravartan programmes resulting in the home-coming Of 17, 112 Harijans who had been converted to Islam and Christianity. All these developments, it must be noted, are of recent years.
The Rajasthan phenomenon is truly remarkable. They were all Chauhan Rajputs sucked up into the Islamic fold after the fall of Prithviraj Chauhan. However, the ancient Hindu blood in them was all the while alive. They continued to celebrate Dasserah and Diwali together with Id and Moharram. Their children used to bear both Hindu and Muslim names. When the Muslim moulvis, in their zeal to purge all the un-Islamic features, pressurised them to give up Hindu names and observing Hindu festivals, it set them thinking. They felt that if they had to give up certain undesirable things, they had better abandon Islam itself which after all had been thrust upon them some centuries ago.
Muslim residents of one such village approached the head priest of Shri Pushkar Tirtha and asked him whether they could come back to the Hindu fold. The head-priest, who was the Sanghachalak of that place, readily gave his assent. This move, however, inflamed the moulvis who sent some hooligans to threaten the villagers with dire consequences if they dared to leave the Islamic fold. Their attempt was, however, foiled by the Swayamsevaks who boosted the resolve of the villagers by arranging an impressive bicycle march in that village. Then, on the auspicious occasion of Maha-Shivaratri, all the Muslims of that village observed a fast and held night-long bhajan of Lord Shiva. On the next day, after some preliminary religious ceremonies conducted by the priest, they were received back into the Hindu Dharma. When the Chauhan Rajput Mahasabha and the VHP came forward to assure the home-comers of equal and honourable treatment in the Hindu society, the home-coming trend received a further fillip.
As days passed, the annual Prithviraj Chauhan Jayanti became a mass event in which the Rajput Muslims started participating in thousands. All this helped setting off a chain reaction resulting in village after village opting for home-coming. The process became further strengthened when workers from among those who came back volunteered to work for bringing the rest of their brethren also to their ancestral fold. The number of those who have embraced the religion of their forefathers has now swelled to 40,000.
As in Rajasthan, in several other provinces also there are certain groups of Muslims who are even now adhering to their past Hindu religious customs and traditions. Swayamsevaks of a village in Jammu were discussing with other villagers plans for putting up a temple for Mahadeva. When they decided to have the Ishwara Linga of a particular size, the local Muslims who were also there remarked: "What kind of Hindus you are! You are thinking of such a small size for Mahadeva, while we worship a far bigger one." The Swayamsevaks were amazed and asked them which was the Linga they were referring to. The Muslims replied, "Why, don't you know that our trip to Mecca every year is meant for that purpose? The Kaba there is the Ishwara Linga and nothing else.''
The urge to come back to their ancestral faith is quite perceptible among such sections of Muslims all over the country. They have also nostalgic memories of their past Hindu associations. It so happened that the discussion a prominent Sangh worker in Lucknow was having with a moulvi, at one stage, warmed up. The talk had centred round the separatist attitude of Muslims and their alienation from national life. During the heat of argument, when the worker bluntly told the moulvi that some decades or centuries ago even his forefathers were Hindus, the moulvi stopped arguing and suddenly fell silent. He then asked the worker whether he would pay a visit to his house-. The worker agreed and reached the moulvi's residence which was on the first floor of the mosque. The moulvi bolted the door from inside and went in, leaving the worker wondering what the moulvi was up to. Soon, the moulvi came out with a document containing his 'family tree.' Pointing to a name at the top, he said that he was a Hindu who was the first to be converted to Islam. He added, "We have been preserving this document with utmost care and hoping for the day when the Hindu society will throw open its doors and take back all its children who had gone out for whatever reasons." And the climax came when, finally, he asked, "Well, are you now ready to welcome us?"
In Jammu, an equally revealing experience awaited the Sangh workers. The elderly Muslims showed them a fourcenturies-old Tamrapatra (copper scroll) issued by their forefathers to their future progeny, saying, "We have been converted to Islam under circumstances beyond our control. When, at some future date, there will again be a Hindu rule, we command you to return to the Hindu fold."
The ancient cultural moorings of the janajatis of the NorthEast are too strong for even Christian converts to snap them. And this is proving a powerful factor in reclaiming them to their ancestral religious fold. During 1986 and 1988, two thousand Khasi converts have responded to this call, signed the papers accordingly (a copy of which is sent to the Church alsb) and returned to the faith of their forbears.
Among certain janajati communities, the taking-back process is not a simple and easy-going one. Quite a few ticklish problems need to be sorted out before social sanction is secured for reconversion.
Many of the janajatis - like the Dimachas of the North Cachar Hills - are such staunch Hindus that the Christian missionaries could not make any dent into their religious faith for over a hundred years. It was only four or five years ago that, for the first time, 10-12 Dimacha young men could be lured into Christianity. Two of them belonged to highly respected families. There was severe reaction among the Dimachas leading to the excommunication of those youths from their fraternity. However, VHP, sensing the danger inherent in such a step, persuaded a few among the converted to return to the Hindu fold. But reconversion to their fraternity had been forbidden. Yet another impediment arose. Two of the new converts had married Christian Mhar (Mizo) girls. Among the Dimachas inter-janajati marriages are also a taboo. The problem became more complicated because of the consideration of gotra of the females after reconversion, since, among the Dimachas, males and females have different gotras. However, after long-drawn discussions held among the Panchas of Dimachas and the VHP, it was decided that the male youths after reconversion by VHP be taken back as Dimachas and the Christian Mhar girl also be included amongst them and the Dimacha female gotra be given to them. Thus, for the first time, the Dimachas have given the lead for ending the one-way traffic in religious conversion and opened up the avenue for their social consolidation.
Here is one more instance indicating the implicit trust and confidence the VHP workers have come to enjoy even among such isolated groups regarding problems arising out of their traditional customs and beliefs.
An Assamese Hindu family of Rangiya in Assam was faced with excommunication from their caste because one of their sons had married a Muslim girl. The boy's brother approached the VHP workers for help, who in turn tried to convince the community leaders how such excommunication would harm the interests of the community itself. The leaders deliberated for ten days but were, however, still divided over the issue - one section favouring and the other opposing the re-entry of that family. The objectors, however, relented when they were reminded that their own honoured saints in the past had re-admitted such persons. But they were anxious to know whether the Satradhikar would be prepared to bless the new couple. The Satradhikar, on his part, agreed to give sharanam to them if the VHP carried out the paravartan; which process, of course, was willingly gone through to the rejoicing of all.
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