Controversial Reconversion Ceremony in India slated for Oct. 20

( [email protected] ) Oct 07, 2004 01:42 PM EDT

Orissa's Mayurbhanj district, home to late Australian missionary Graham Staines, is witnessing another proselytisation drive, sources reported today.

Close on the heels of last month's reconversion ceremony at Sarat where 75 Christians were brought back into the Hindu fold, a second ceremony will be held on October 20 at Bhajakia in the same district. While at Sarat, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) organised an atmasudhi yagna, a Hindu Jagaran Dharma Sabha is being planned at Bhanjakia.

Six members of one Christian family have already agreed to change their religion. Efforts are on to reconvert more Christians at this Dharma Sabha. VHP state secretary Gouri Prasad Rath, however, told Hindustan Times that his organisation has nothing to do with the forthcoming reconversion ceremony.

It is not clear, however, whether legal requirements under the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act to change religion are being fulfilled. Paranaranjan Parichha, president of the Orissa chapter of the All India Christian Council, told the Hindustan Times, "The authorities are not applying the OFRA provisions equally.”

Last month, dozens of former Hindu families in India were converted fromChristianity to back to Hinduism by hardline Hindu nationalists during a ceremony on Sept. 19. 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 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 VHP's State Secretary Gouri Prasad Rath, who said that it was wrong to describe the event as re-conversion, said, "We call it homecoming."

Shortly after news of the reconversions made its way to the public, Christian groups condemned Orissa state in India for failing to stop the much-publicized reconversion of 100 Christians to Hinduism last week, sources reported.

According to Ecumenical News International, Christian groups say the event openly flouted the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act, which bans conversions without government permission.

President of the Orissa chapter of the All India Christian Council (AICC) Rev P R Parichcha said the Orissa government was "acting as if the anti-conversion law does not apply to Hindus".

Convener of the Global Council of Indian Christians Sajan K George condemned the Orissa government's "selective application" of the law on conversions. "We are really concerned with the connivance of the state government in allowing the bigots to conduct such ceremonies."

Parichcha noted that the government had failed to act in February when 200 tribal Christians were reconverted to Hinduism, allegedly under duress.