Conversion in Jaipur makes Orissa MLAs sit up

Growing concern amongst Orissa MLAs as Jaipur Conversion takes place
( [email protected] ) Nov 26, 2003 09:48 AM EST

Bhubaneswar, Orissa, India., Nov. 26 - The Biju Janata Dal, a supposedly ‘secular’ ally of the BJP, on Monday joined the growing band of parties which have voiced concern over the practice of luring poor Hindus to embrace Christianity.

Even though Orissa is among the few states with a law banning forced conversions, the state has been witness to a growing level of social tension arising out of the resistance being faced by the Christian missionaries from outfits such as the VHP, Hindu Jagaran Manch and the Bajrang Dal.

As these organisations went about consolidating their hold in the tribal districts, mobilising tribals against the alleged acts of conversions by force or by allurements, there were sporadic incidents of violence. The brutal murder of the Australian missionary, Graham Staines and his two sons by a Hindu fanatic, Dara Singh and his band of supporters over five years ago was a manifestation of this conflict. Singh and six other co-accused were last month awarded death sentence by the sessions court for the ghastly incident.

The issue, however, has been pitchforked into limelight again, the provocation being the alleged mass conversions in the state’s Jajpur district early this month.

It found its echo in the Orissa assembly today, with several members, cutting across party lines, demanding an inquiry into the incident.

The matter was raised during the zero hour by a BJD member, Mr Kalpataru Das, who alleged that about 100 persons, most of them poor, had reportedly embraced Christianity on the promise of employment by a Christian organisation in the district yesterday.

Even though the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act laid down that prior permission of the district administration had to be taken before any person was converted, no such permission had been taken in this case, Mr Das alleged. He demanded that the matter be investigated by the government and the House informed of it — a demand which was endorsed by BJP members Dharmendra Pradhan and Nibedita Pradhan, who alleged that conversions were being resorted to illegally in the state.

Dharmendra Pradhan alleged that people were lured into Christianity in the aftermath of the super cyclone as they were offered houses and other help.

Speaker Sarat Kumar Kar shared their concerns, observing that anybody was free to embrace any religion but it should be done legally and not by force. "Whether the Act is being followed or not has to be seen," he said and directed the government to inquire into the allegation and place its report in the house in its next session as the current session was coming to an end today.