Will Indian court ruling help 'reconversions' of dalit Christians?

Right-wing Hindu group promises 'mega' conversion
Will Indian court ruling help 'reconversions' of dalit Christians?

Indian dalit Christians hold crosses during a protest rally in New Delhi on August 1, 2012. On July 27, a High Court in Kerala ruled that dalit Christians who have reconverted to Hinduism are entitled to affirmative action programs. (AFP PHOTO/RAVEENDRAN)

A Hindu leader who promotes religious conversions in a southern Indian state says plans to convert some 100,000 Christians this year to Hinduism will be easier because of a recent court verdict.

Saburaj, an official with Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP, World Hindu Council) told ucanews.com that the Kerala state High Court's July 27 decision will attract more dalit Christians to convert to Hinduism.

The court decided that dalit Christians who have reconverted to Hinduism are entitled to affirmative action programs.

“It will help us to redress the grievances of newly reconverted people,” Saburaj, who uses a single name, said of the judgment.

“We have conducted several events reconverting Christian and Muslim people to Hinduism. Now there is a steady increase in applications for reconversion. We are planning a mega event,” he said.

Government officials had earlier denied certificates proving lower-caste status to dalit Christians who had converted to Hinduism. Such certificates are necessary to claim state benefits, said Saburaj, who heads Dharma Prachar (propagation of religion), a VHP unit promoting Hindu culture and rituals in Kerala state’s Kottayam district.

In order to improve their social standing, dalits, formerly known as "untouchables,” are constitutionally guaranteed “reservation rights” that permit access to particular government jobs and seats in educational institutions. But that access has long been withheld from Christian and Muslim dalits, who — the government argues — do not need special status since they are operating outside the Hindu caste system. Sikhs and Buddhists, meanwhile, have long been granted these rights.

The July 27 court verdict was the result of an appeal filed by Alinda Chandrabose, 20, a former dalit Catholic who along with her family, became Hindus in 2009.

Her claim for a reserved seat to study medicine was denied on the grounds that she was born in a Catholic family and "her reconversion could not be legalized", her lawyer G. Krishnakumar told ucanews.com.

The court decision ruled that people must fulfill three conditions to receive government reservation benefits — there must be clear proof that they belong to a caste recognized for reservation, that they “reconverted” to the religion to which their parents or earlier generations belonged, and that they have been accepted by the community.

Radical Hindu groups have been conducting public “reconversion” ceremonies. The movement, known as ghar vapasi, or homecoming, claims to bring Christians "back to" Hinduism.

Church leaders have pointed out that Hindu groups call it "conversion" when people convert to Christianity, but when Christians convert to Hinduism they call it "homecoming”.

They claim the issue of religious conversions is a show for radical Hindu groups looking for an excuse to attack Christians.

Father Ronald M Varghese of Punalur diocese, where dalit people account for 65 percent of some 40,000 Catholics, said the Church is "very much aware of these designs".

He said poor dalit Christians lose all their reservation benefits because of their Christian faith and that many just want to get the benefits of affirmative action. “It’s not the faith that motivates many for reconversion,” he said.

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Some 2.5 million dalit Christians live spread across Christian denominations in Kerala. Christians constitute about 20 percent of the 35 million people in the state.

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