17 Sep 2008, 0210 hrs IST, Rishikesh Bahadur Desai,TNN
BANGALORE: Raju Gouda of Ucchangi Durga in Davanagere district has changed his religion twice, but not his name. He was born a Veerashaiva and converted to Christianity in his 20s.
A few years later, he met VHP volunteers who were involved in reconversion. He came back to Hinduism after a few meetings with them. Now, Gouda leads the re-conversion movement.
Similar is the case of many others. “The reconversion movement is slowly taking root across Karnataka. We have already succeeded in bringing back over 50,000 converts,” said Ga Ra Suresh, who oversees VHP’s Paravarthana movement.
He is convinced that none of the reconverts have gone back to Christianity. To him, the process is not reconversion. “We call it mainstreaming,” he added. Paravarthana focuses on the recent convert. “We are not bothered about Christians who have been converted centuries ago. They embraced that faith under different socio-political conditions. Christian beliefs and practices are ingrained in them. We don’t touch them. Our primary targets are those who have been converted by inducement, or under duress, in recent decades,” Suresh said.
According to him, Protestant para-church organizations like the New Life institution (that was targeted in Mangalore and Chikmagalur) are into large-scale illegal conversions. “Such organizations can’t be called churches. They are run by salaried employees whose job is proselytizing,” he said.
According to him, such people are more likely to become the targets of attacks by rightist organizations, rather than priests. They choose particular caste groups in different districts.
In Hyderabad-Karnataka region, they target Madigas (scheduled castes). In North Karnataka districts like Bijapur and Gadag, they have converted Lambanis, and in Bagalkot and Dharwad districts, Kurubas have been converted.
“Most of the time, they use a neo-convert to carry on conversions,” he said. According to him, converts are induced with land, free education for children and other gifts like sewing machines. “Most conversions happen in hospitals. The poor who are denied quality healthcare are impressed by the way missionary hospitals are run. They become easy targets,” he said.
He does not completely accept the argument that low caste Hindus convert to escape untouchability and atrocities by the upper castes.
“This is not fully true. There may be some such cases. But escaping caste-based discrimination is not the only reason behind conversion,” he said. According to him, caste-based discrimination exists even among Christians.
“There are separate churches for Dalit Christians. Upper caste converts don’t marry lower caste converts. In fact, several churches in Kollegal have —— for Dalit Christians and others,” he said. The process of reconversion is simple. Paravarthana volunteers visit the house of the converts regularly, and convince them of the need to come back. They are told stories about the achievements of saints and leaders from lower castes. The volunteers ensure that they regain pride in their community and Hinduism.
When the family is ready to reconvert, the members are given Ganga jal or ‘gomutra’ (cow urine) to drink. A swamiji of the same caste or from a Veerashaiva mutt visits their house and performs the ‘ling dharana’ ritual to bring them back. Most of these families embrace Veerashaivism.
“They become followers of Basavanna, who had produced saints from all castes,” Suresh said. Paravarathana also seeks the Arya Samaj, which has been carrying out the Shuddhi reconversion movement for nearly a century. Arya Samajis perform a small homa and issue a certificate. This works well for large-scale reconversions.