Dozens of former Hindu families in India were converted from Christianity to back to Hinduism by hardline Hindu nationalists during a ceremony on Sunday, news agencies reported. According the Indo-Asian News Service, 38 families were gathered at a Shiva temple in Sarat village of Mayurbhanj district for the reconversion ceremony, organized by the Visha Hindu Parishad (VHP).
The VHP, a World Hindu Council in India, said Monday that at least 78 Christians in Orissa converted to Hinduism in the ritual. The group also said that the district administration had been given prior notice of the ceremony.
The Australian Broadcasting Company reported that Christian activists in India opposed the reconversion ceremonies, claiming that people were pressured into reverting to Hinduism.
The VHP's State Secretary Gouri Prasad Rath, however, had said that it was "wrong to describe it as re-conversion".
"We call it homecoming," he said.
Sunday’s ceremony is not the first incident mass-reconversions in the Indian state of Orissa. In December 2003, International VHP Secretary Pravin Togadia addressed a gathering of 7,000 persons in the Surat District of Gujarat and claimed that 500 persons including a Catholic priest had reconverted. He continued by saying that having defeated the Congress Party, he expected "to undertake many more shuddhikaran (purification) programs."
According to a media report, Togadiya claimed that the VHP planned to reconvert all Christians to Hinduism in BJP-ruled states by 2005. He also said they plan to "expose the global Christian conspiracy of conversions."
That same month, the Maharashtra state Congress and Nationalist Congress parties banned the "Ghar Wapasi" ("Returning Home: Reconversion to Hinduism") program, which was organized by the VHP and planned to reconvert 400 tribal Christians to Hinduism in Nawapur in the tribal district of Nandurbar. Reportedly, the VHP distributed pamphlets in the region, saying that Christians had damaged Hindu temples and were destroying the culture of Ram. The VHP shifted its program across the border to a village in Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled Gujarat and is set to attempt a reconversion drive in Kerala.
Also in December 2003, members of a tribal Christian family, who fled violence in Tilonda Jambhulpada, a village in north Thane, Maharashtra, claimed that local police urged them to renounce their faith. The family refused, and, following the intervention of the Maharashtra State Minorities Commission, it was given police protection from district headquarters. The family returned to its village in February; family members have not pressed charges.
On February 6, in an example of communal tension in Jagatsingpur District, Orissa, Hindu villagers seized eight persons, including a local pastor and eight Christian women and shaved their heads. Villagers accused the pastor of forcibly converting two village women; the women denied this, however. And in March in the Jharsuguda district, 212 Christian tribals reportedly reconverted to Hinduism.
According to the International Religious Freedom Report, recently released by the U.S. State Department, Hindu nationalist organizations frequently allege that Christian missionaries force Hindus, particularly those of lower castes, to convert to Christianity. Meanwhile, Christians claim that the efforts of Hindu groups to "reconvert" Christians to Hinduism are coercive.