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Indian Church debunks 'reconversion' of tribal Christians

More such claims will be made ahead of general election, says Bishop Paul Toppo of Raigarh in central Chhattisgarh state
Women and children from a tribal community in Chhattisgarh carry drinking water.

Women and children from a tribal community in Chhattisgarh carry drinking water. (Photo: AFP)

Published: March 20, 2024 11:19 AM GMT
Updated: March 20, 2024 12:02 PM GMT

Church leaders have refuted the claim that nearly 200 tribal people converted to Hinduism from Christianity in a central Indian state where a stricter anti-conversion law has been proposed.

The 200 people from 56 families of the Pahadi Korva community returned to the Hindu fold at an event held in Raigarh, the capital of the central state of Chhattisgarh, on March 17, according to a report in the Organiser.

The weekly is a mouthpiece of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the parent outfit of India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The report without quoting government officials said that hundreds of tribal people in their traditional attire reconverted to Hinduism. They were practicing Christians, the report added.

“First of all, the claim to have reconverted Pahadi Korva tribal people to Hinduism is not correct as the community neither follows Hinduism nor Christianity. They are followers of traditional tribal faith practices,” Bishop Paul Toppo of Raigarh told UCA News on March 20.

There are hardly 60 Korva tribal people in Raigarh and they mainly stay in the interior parts of the forest. "Reaching them itself is quite challenging," said the 66-year-old bishop, who belongs to a tribal community in Chhattisgarh.

The Hindu groups have no documents to prove their claim, the prelate observed.

“I suspect we may hear more such false news in the near future as the general elections are slated in the country,” he added.

The RSS through its several affiliate organizations runs a nationwide campaign to convert tribal Christians to Hinduism. It is named ghar wapsi (homecoming).

Shanti Beck, an executive member of the Bharatiya Adivasi Sangamam (Indian indigenous people's forum), said Hindu groups often claim reconversion of tribal people. However, they never come up with documents to prove it.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's BJP, which returned to power in Chhattisgarh state last year, introduced a revised anti-conversion bill on March 3 in the state assembly with provisions for tougher conditions and punishments.

The proposed bill requires individuals seeking to convert to another religion to apply to government authorities at least 60 days in advance. Under the existing Chhattisgarh Freedom of Religion Act 2003, the time limit is 30 days.

The new bill bans conversions through abuse of power, coercion, undue influence, incitement, fraudulent means, or through marriage. Violators will have to face jail term of up to 10 years.

“Why do we need a new law, when the existing law has enough teeth?” asked Beck.

Christians in Chhattisgarh make up less than 2 percent of the state’s 30 million people.

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