Jashpur, India., Nov. 26 - In the tribal belt of central India , this is the homeland of "reconversion".
It was here that in 1952, a Maharashtrian Brahmin, Balasaheb Deshpande, set up the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram for RSS. The land was donated by Dilip Singh Judeo’s grandfather Raja Vijay Bhushan Singh Deo.
No wonder, conversion and reconversion are major issues in elections in this dusty town as well as Chhattisgarh. From Judeo’s younger son, Yudhvir, to BJP sympathisers, everyone talk about the "evil designs" of Christian missionaries.
Even Judeo’s bribery scandal is attributed to the opponents of reconversion. After all, Judeo’s political career had taken off after he washed the feet of reconverted tribals in the "ghar vapasi" programmes.
Yet, nobody here remembers when and where the last reconversion was done. Asked where could one find some of the "reconverts", Yudhvir said it was difficult to "locate them". At the Ashram headquarters, the office-in-charge Ramesh Chandra Upadhyaya said there was none this year.
Upadhyaya said the last big conversion could have been in 1992. "It was all in the papers. Even last year, we had reconverted 125 families. After the initial momentum, things have slowed down," he said.
Though most of the tribals have been educated in missionary schools, the BJP sympathisers among the "Hindu tribals" share the Sangh’s point of view on conversion. They talk about "forced conversion" but do not know when and where it has happened and cannot point out a family that has been coerced or given money to convert.
Yes, the school is good, but the missionaries are bad, is the refrain. In Chitiya, a village in the forest, a government employee complained about his tribe, the Sanseria, getting completely converted. He too had Christian schooling. They why didn’t he convert? "There are some us who still hold out, but most others have fallen for money."
At another village, Fatehpur, the complaint is that all government jobs are being taken away by Christians.
There is hardly any village in this area untouched by Christian missionaries. Sure, money must have flowed in from abroad, but that seems to have altered the way the tribals live. Illiteracy and abject poverty are things of the past.
Despite the high profile "reconversions", the Sangh has not been able to match the missionaries’ reach. The Ashram here runs hostels for boys and girls, a middle school, five primary schools in villages, 80 single-teacher schools, four permanent medical centres and four weekly ones.
But why didn’t it do better than the missionaries? "We have no problem with their charity work, but we oppose their intentions. What is the point in getting education and medicare if Bharat does not remain Bharat?" countered Upadhayay.