By Chander Suta Dogra
The RSS and its affiliates are engaged in a massive “ghar wapsi” programme to get Christians back — not just to Hinduism, but also to Sikhism, in Punjab. They claim to have helped some 8,000 people ‘return home’ in the last three years, some 3,500 of them over the last one year.
The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), an ally of the BJP, has frowned on the Sangh’s activity. The SAD sees Dalit Christians as a vote bank, and has been wooing them assiduously. At a function in Gurdaspur on Thursday, Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal announced “Masihi bhawans” for Christians in all districts, and assured them that the “forcible conversions” that are happening in other parts of the country would not be permitted in Punjab.
The city of Amritsar is currently dotted with hoardings of Akali leaders with an image of Jesus in the background, wishing people a “Happy Christmas”.
The RSS — which is usually viewed with suspicion by orthodox Sikhs because of the Sangh position that Sikhism is part of the larger Hindu culture — has enabled hundreds of Christians to re-convert to Sikhism with the help of gurdwaras and some members of the SAD-dominated Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), who have been acting in their personal capacity.
One such member, Kiranjot Kaur, who has been instrumental in holding several recent ‘ghar wapsi’ ceremonies at gurdwaras, told The Indian Express, “The situation is so alarming that even Sikhs in Amritsar, which is the seat of Sikhism, are converting. We are a small minority, and we should be worried. Because of the politicisation of the SGPC, the religious agenda which it should be actively promoting has got diluted. The RSS does not mind people re-converting to Sikhism because it sees Hindus and Sikhs as members of the same family.”
RSS leader Ram Gopal, who heads the organisation’s Dharm Jagran unit in the state, said, “We are trying to halt the march of Christianity in Punjab, and re-convert people to their original religion, which could be Hinduism or Sikhism. We discovered villages where gurdwaras were locked because the entire population had converted. This should also worry the Sikh religious leadership.”
Reached for a comment, SGPC spokesperson Dalmegh Singh said the ninth Sikh Guru, Tegh Bahadur, had given his life to prevent conversions, and the SGPC was not part of any programme to get Christians into Sikhism.
Meanwhile, emboldened by its success, the Sangh is for the first time holding a series of ‘dharm jagran’ yatras across the border districts of Punjab over the next one month, where it will showcase individuals who have ‘returned’, and conduct more ‘ghar wapsi’ ceremonies. The yatras will touch gurdwaras and Valmiki temples, and local granthis have been contacted to assist in the ceremonies.
At Mohan Nagar, a Dalit basti in Khemkaran where almost 70 per cent of inhabitants are Christians, Kinder Kaur, a widow who has reconverted, said, “We converted (to Christianity) because we were told that my husband would be cured of his illness. He died in 2011.
Three months ago, the RSS motivated us to become Sikhs again. I have also changed the names of my children from Thomas and Rebecca to Sumeet and Kuljit.”
At the small village of Machike, 3 km from the border, 60-year-old Gandhi Ram, a daily-wager, said he was born to Christian parents. “We were originally Valmikis. Now after my ‘ghar wapsi’, we worship according to Hindu rituals.”
Most recent ‘ghar wapsis’ are taking place in the Mazhabi Sikh community. Converts to Christianity are returning to gurdwaras, whereas Valmiki converts are re-converting to Hinduism. The RSS has also identified communities like the Rai Sikhs, the Mahasha biradari and Ravi Dassias, from where individuals converted to Christianity.
Says Dinesh, who heads the ‘ghar wapas pariyojana’ in Punjab, “It is only last year that we took up the Punjab project in earnest. We have done a strategic caste-wise exercise to see which areas require urgent attention.”
Hoshiarpur district has seen the most ‘ghar wapsis’, followed by Amritsar and Batala. Ceremonies take place throughout the year in gurdwaras and temples, mostly in the impoverished pockets of border districts like Gurdaspur, Amritsar, Tarn Taran and Ferozepur.
Since caste discrimination against Dalits is perceived to be the main reason for the conversions, the RSS has begun involving upper caste dominated Hindu organisations and institutions in Dalit programmes. “Some Valmiki youth are also being identified for training as pujaris, and will be given charge of temples in the state,” says Dinesh.
Volunteers describe Christian schools as “dens of conversion”. Gandhi Ram’s ‘ghar wapsi’ involved participating in a havan in a temple, where a priest did the ‘mukti mala path’ for the small group of 20 people who ‘returned’ that day. He was given a locket with Om on it, and ‘ganga jal’ was sprinkled on him.
Those ‘returning’ to Sikhism are taken to a gurdwara where they seek forgiveness for straying from their religion. They are then honoured with a siropa, and the granthi conducts a paath for them.