Hardline Hindu activists drew up a list of Christian families in Uttar Pradesh’s Barhalganj area for a wider religious conversion programme as the issue rocked Parliament on Monday, leading to the adjournment of the Rajya Sabha at least three times.
The Hindu Yuva Vahini (HYV), a group floated by the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) firebrand Gorakhpur MP Yogi Adityanath, held what it called a 'dharma raksha' meeting where it identified 53 Christian families it aims to bring into the Hindu fold under a so-called homecoming, or ‘ghar wapsi’, programme.
The meeting entrusted a group of men between 25 and 30 with wooing the Christians to become Hindu, just days after 57 Muslim families in Agra said they were tricked into switching to Hinduism.
“Tell them it’s not conversion, but simple ‘ghar wapsi’. Convince them to carry the revenue department record in which the name of their forefathers is registered as Hindu,” the group’s head, Ashok Yadav, told members.
Police said they were on alert for any forced conversions. "We are keeping watch on the activities of the saffron brigade. Intelligence sleuths have been told to collect information about the ‘ghar wapsi’ programme launched by the HYV. Action will be taken if people are threatened or tricked to convert," said Deputy Superintendent of Police Sunil Kumar Singh.
The Agra incident came under sharp attack from the opposition and triggered concerns about an increasingly strident Hindu right since the BJP came to power in May.
"It is a very serious issue," Congress Deputy Leader Anand Sharma said in parliament which is due to have a discussion on conversions on Wednesday. "An explosive situation is being created in the country."
The administration in Uttar Pradesh has vowed not to allow any conversion programmes but hardline groups say they will press ahead with their plans.
The Hindu Yuva Vahini says Christian missionaries became active in Barhalganj on the border of Gorakhpur and Azamgarh districts after floods in 1998.
“Houses were destroyed and agriculture land was submerged. People were forced to live in the open and faced starvation. Christian missionaries launched a relief programme and motivated several Hindus to adopt Christianity,” said Sunil Singh, the Hindu Yuva Vahini’s state president.
“The conversions have not stopped yet and several Hindus, majority of them poor, have converted to Christianity."
The head priest of a local church, Pastor Y Samuel, denied the charges.
"The missionaries have not converted Hindus. The church was established during British rule in 1940 and I am looking after its affairs since 1967,” he said. “There are only 12 Christian families in Barhalhganj. They were not lured or pressurised to convert to Christianity.”