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Mission Hindutva: VHP reconverts 50 tribals in Bengal

Mission Hindutva: VHP reconverts 50 tribals in Bengal

The Asian Age
April 14, 2000
Title: Mission Hindutva: VHP reconverts 50 tribals in Bengal
Publication: The Asian Age
Date: April 14, 2000.

In yet another religious conversion drive by the VHP, about 50 tribespeople, including Christians, made a symbolic return to their original faith by pouring milk and paddy into a blazing ritual fire in a remote village of West Bengal.

The tribespeople, 17 of them Christians, were reconverted by the VHP at Popda village, 16 km from Malda town, in a swift and secret operation on Wednesday. This was the VHP's second reconversion drive in just over a month. On February 27, it reconverted about 245 tribespeople of whom 200 were Christians.

The 50 people who attended the latest reconversion ceremony did not all come from the Popda village but also from nearby districts of North and South Dinajpur in West Bengal and the Purnea district in neighbouring Bihar.  Organisers of the ceremony claimed it was reconversion as the participants in the rituals were originally Hindus.

According to local VHP functionary Kimangshu Mondal,"We had invited all those who had changed their religion under duress or temptation to partake of this paravartan ceremony and make a symbolic return to their original faith".  Of the 50 people who became Hindus, 13 were men and 37 women.

But the ceremony does not appear to be a spontaneous event as is being projected by the VHP. The 17 Christians who were reconverted had been taken to Malda court a month ago by VHP volunteers where they had filed affidavits saying they had converted to Christianity under temptation and were now reconverting to Hinduism at their own will.

The states Left Front government has said it is unaware of the incident. The reconversion ceremony was organised on Wednesday to coincide with Basanti Puja. The 50 reconverts were asked to observe a fast, take a dip in a village pond at the break of dawn and then participate in the fire ritual.

The tribespeople huddled around a fire and sprinkled milk and paddy while a tribal priest chanted hymns in Santhali, the tribal dialect. They then took some vows that completed their return to Hinduism. The ceremony was reportedly kept short and secretive.

The VHP's chief organiser in the state, Mr Asit Bhattacharya, said earlier that reconversion ceremonies are being kept a closely guarded secret because previous publicity had attracted government action.

Mr Bhattacharya claimed there was no question of coercion and it was not the first time that reconversion has taken place. He said 42 tribal Christians had been reconverted last year in Malda and 280 Muslims in Murshidabad.

"This is part of a continuous process. We have reconverted hundreds of willing non-Hindus. The government cannot stop us when the people are willing", he said. The VHP alleges that Christian missionaries take advantage of the poverty and ignorance of the tribespeople and convert them after offering material comforts as allurements.

Some of the reconverts of Popda village said they were not sure why they had returned to Hinduism. "I converted because the village chief asked me to", one of the converts said.

The VHP-initiated conversion drives are gaining ground in West Bengal, but the government, except on one occasion, has by and large failed to detect the groups activities.(India Abroad News Service)

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