‘Didn’t get minority status, so embraced Hinduism’

Despite converting to Christianity in 2001, seven Valmiki families in Asroi village were not accorded minority status.

Written by Aniruddha Ghosal | Updated: August 30, 2014 8:41 am
The Asroi church, which was converted to a temple, has been locked up by officials.  (Source: Express photo) The Asroi church, which was converted to a temple, has been locked up by officials. (Source: Express photo)

For 10 years, 29-year-old Ram Pal was a practicing Christian, but three days ago he converted and become a Hindu. The change in faith, however, has not tangibly altered his life as the struggle to make ends meet and the worry about the future of his children continue unabated.

Despite converting to Christianity in 2001, seven Valmiki families in Asroi village were not accorded minority status. Instead, the village register – maintained by the district administration – continued to identify them as Scheduled Caste. This continued for over a decade, but Ram Pal said that over the past few years, this ambiguous identity of being neither a Christian nor a Dalit was becoming increasingly difficult.

Ram Pal, who like others in his community raises pigs, said, “We still used our SC identity to get our children admission in schools and avail to various government schemes. We celebrated Holi and Diwali along with Christimas. But people were asking questions. If you’re a Christian, how can you be a Dalit?”

Another such Dalit, 44-year-old Ram Chandra, said, “Our children go to school, on the basis of their SC certificates. But most drop out in their teens and look for work in Hathras and Aligarh. Now that we’re Hindu, at least no can doubt that we’re Dalits.”

On Wednesday, a church belonging to the 7th Day Adventists that functioned from a small room in the village was “converted” into a temple through a “shuddhikaran” (purification) ceremony that saw the “ghar wapsi” (reconversion) of 72 Dalit Valmikis in the seven families by various Hindu groups, including the RSS, VHP, Bajrang Dal and Arya Samaj, said villagers.

Ram Pal said that the Dalit community did not want the puja to take place within the church. “But, they said it was the only way for us to become Hindus again,” he said.

Meanwhile, Khem Chandra, the Sangh pracharak and pramukh of Dharam Jagaran Vivad in Aligarh asserted that the conversion was a “conscious choice made by the Dalit Valimiki community”. However, the news of the appropriation of the church spread tension in the area.

Fearing an outbreak of violence, the district administration locked the room on Thursday. The Shiva poster, which was put up in the place where a framed-photograph of Jesus Christ used to hang, has been taken off “and kept in a safe place”.

The belongings of the church – a cupboard, Christmas-lights and a single copy of the Bible – has also been kept in a locker.

The Christian community has alleged that such conversions were a part of an RSS conspiracy, aimed at reaping electoral benefit. Seeking immediate action against the perpetrators, civil rights activist John Dayal said, “It is the right of an individual to convert to any religion of his choice. But such mass conversions imply political, social and physical coercion and the threat of violence. I condemn the coercion and conspiracy of the Sangh Parivar which is using it polarise the religious environment in the state with an eye on the elections.”

Father Dominic Emmanuel, community leader and the editor of a Christian magazine in Delhi said, “With the BJP in power, these groups have become assertive.”

The village pradhan also pointed out that the BJP, for the first time, had received an overwhelming majority of the votes in the village. “Usually, the votes go for RLD. This time the elections was about Hindus and Muslims and every one voted for Modi. That has been reflected here,” said Vikas Choudhury, pradhan of Asroi.

But, while the RSS and the VHP have been making in-roads into the village by working with the Dalit-Christian community, villagers said that it was not simply a matter of faith, but also economics.

“Over the years, the activities of the Church here have receded. We were promised schools, health care and better lives, but nothing came of it. We haven’t been accorded minority status and soon, we feared, our Dalit status would also be taken away from us,” said 54-year-old Guji Lal, who added that Hindu groups in the past months had been increasingly active in the village, convincing people to ‘reconvert’ to Hinduism.

Asroi village, with its pucca roads and expansive houses, has become obviously prosperous. But the cluster of 10 cramped single-storey structures – away from the rest of the village – belonging to Dalit Valmikis has not been touched by this prosperity. While the backbone of the village economy is farming of cash-intensive crops, the Dalit families almost exclusively rear pigs, selling meat only to other Dalits from nearby villages.

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  1. J
    Joyjeet Chowdhury
    Aug 10, 2015 at 9:39 am
    If we read the article carefully, these people were promised of schools, hospitals etc. Etc. If this is not luring then may be Mr. John dayal could through some light. Why hey needed to be converted to get certain facilities. A complete breakdown of the Govt. Policies rapped in a cover of corruption. When Hindu groups are trying to do the same how it becomes the matter of faith.
    1. A
      Aug 30, 2014 at 4:25 am
      My dear brothers, I am glad you saw the sham of Christian missionaries. They have no place in India. We are the world oldest civilization, we have a culture of our own, we donot need a foreign religion to show us the way to spirituality. We should ask all missionaries to go back to their countries if they serve anyone with a view to convert them!!!! We our country of inskam seva, twisting Christianity ideology to increase numbers would not work here.
      1. S
        subhasis ghosh
        Aug 30, 2014 at 1:40 pm
        I agree with John Dayal that religion is a matter of individual choice. So were was he went these seven families together decided to convert to Christianity? Did it not strike him as strange that how come suddenly so many people found their faith in another religion? Was there any inducement in terms of better material, rather than spiritual, life? And to media I would like to ask, did you people report the original conversion to Christianity?
        1. G
          Aug 30, 2014 at 3:04 am
          Well, this is nothing wrong, unlike the many many evangelical groups (though not all) I have seen who threaten poor innocent villagers of eternal -fire & torture if they do not accept Christ, or they exploit poor by making it mandatory to accept Christ if they want school admissions or medicines for the sick in their family or even a loan. For the very poor, for even 1000 rupees help, conversion to Christianity is demanded.I don't think this is how Christ would have liked to see people flocking to him, he would have cried tears of blood seeing this activity in his name. Nothing wrong in reconverting all those people no matter the number - maybe that will teach militant evangelists & Dawah'ists a moral lesson & learn to preach in dignity & mutual respect without spreading hate against who they call "Infidel".
          1. P
            Aug 30, 2014 at 2:42 pm
            Yes, he belongs to rotten RSS
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