The new front for confrontation against ‘Conversions to Christianity’ is opening up along India’s North-western border, as a leading Sikh cleric accuses ‘Christian missionaries’ of ‘aggressive proselytisation’ and vows to stem the tide.
Even as Archbishop Peter Machado of Bangalore and various Christian leaders have condemned the continuous harassment on the Christian Missionaries in Karnataka State and questioned a government order for a survey on ‘official’ and ‘non-official’ Christian missionaries, key Sikh leaders in Punjab state have also condemned ‘forced conversions of Sikhs to the Christian faith’.
An article on the ‘Swarajmag’ website reads, ” Amid aggressive proselytisation campaigns run by the Christian missionaries, and videos circulating on social media showing mass conversions in Punjab, the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) had been under criticism from within the Sikh community for not doing enough to “protect” the faith.
According to media reports, three days ago, Akal Takht Jathedar Giani Harpreet Singh, the head priest of the Sikh community’s highest temporal seat, said “Christian missionaries have been running a campaign in the border belt for forced conversions over the past few years. Innocent people are being cheated or lured to convert. We have received many such reports.”
The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee has started a campaign ‘Ghar Ghar Andar Dharamshal (sacred shrine within every home)’ to counter forced conversions, which is a dangerous attack on the Sikh religion, the article said.
Under this campaign, Sikh preachers will be visiting villages to distribute literature.
Giani Harpreet Singh also said that the religious conversion drive is being run in Punjab with funds from foreign countries. “Converting Sikhs to another religion is worrisome. When we don’t force anyone to join our religion by greed, then no one has the right to ask the followers of our religion to convert by greed or pressure,” he said.
Singh himself hails from the Dalit Sikh community and his remarks came on the day when Dalit organisations in Amritsar observed the 101st anniversary of the restoration of Dalit Sikhs’ right to uninterrupted entry and offering of ‘Karah Prasad’ at Golden Temple and Akal Takht.
Reacting to the Jathedar’s statement, Dr Kashmir Singh, who is based in Amritsar and heads the Dalits and Minorities Organisation Punjab, told the Times of India : “There are many reasons behind such conversions. One reason is the discrimination that Dalits face in villages. There is also illiteracy and poverty among Dalits, which make them easy targets. They are told that conversion would help them settle in foreign countries.”
He said: “The missionaries approach Dalits at their homes to convince them. There is no such effort from the SGPC. We need SGPC preachers from the Dalit community, and more Dalit representation in the SGPC and its institutions to stop such conversions.”
The thread of accusations in both states, one in the South and the other in North-west India is that the so-called targets for conversion to Christianity belong to the Dalit and backward castes
Meanwhile, the Backward Classes and Minorities Welfare Department in Karnataka has ordered the officers to conduct a survey of both official and non-official Christian missionaries in the southern Indian state, following a discussion on Christian conversions in the state on October 13.
“Why is the government interested in making survey of the religious personnel and places of worship only of Christian community?” asked Archbishop Machado in a statement issued October 15.
The survey will identify Christian places of worship as well as priests, nuns and pastors and they will be unfairly targeted in future, the archbishop alleged. He said such sporadic incidents are being reported from northern Indian and Karnataka.
If Christians are allegedly converting indiscriminately why has the percentage of Christian population been reducing regularly compared to other religious communities?, he asked.
“We are against forceful, fraudulent and incentivized conversions and we repeat that we lawfully abide by the prescriptions of the Constitution of India, which for us supreme and sacred,” Archbishop Machado asserted.