It was way back in 1917 that Satya Prakash of Aligarh began studying the Bible. He was moved by it and got baptised six years later. Prakash went on to the Bareilly seminary to train as a pastor. To avoid anyone from accusing him of converting in order to marry a Christian woman, he even remained single for almost twenty years, tying the knot only in 1942.
The late pastor's son, A K Prakash, was born soon after. Today, the 72 year old former junior engineer with the UP government, leads a retired life at the Bannadevi mission compound on the outskirts of Aligarh, next to the Methodist Church. The church, the biggest one in town, is 114 years old.
Prakash is partly amused, partly worried and partly angry about the announcement of the Sangh Parivar affiliate organisations to organise a 'ghar-vaapsi' program for 5000 Christians in Aligarh on Christmas Day. He and people like him are the Sangh's target group - he is a second generation Christian after all.
But Prakash tells HT, "No one can convert me." He recalls working with RSS sympathisers while in government service who often told him, "You were Hindu, return." Prakash says he made light of the matter by teasing them about how different Hindus picked different days for different Gods to fast. "When you can't be one in one religion, how will you convert us?" That was said in a lighter vein, he says, but his middle name - Khristanand - symbolises how he has found joy in Christ and sees no reason for 'ghar vaapsi'.
But Prakash is worried too - for the day Sangh has picked is Christmas, and this micro minority community in Aligarh does not want trouble. Christian leaders say there are about 10,000 Christians in the district, out of which about 3500 are members of the Methodist Church.
The pastor in charge of the Church, Reverend Harris Yusuf, tells HT, "This is political propaganda. If you believe in Hinduism, it doesn't mean you can convert everyone to the religion. The basic aim is to create fear and tension so that Christians can't celebrate Christmas with peace and love." He says that this goes against the Modi government's slogan of taking all religions and communities together.
Harris has been active in mobilising support. He met the district magistrate on Friday, and the local SP MLA, Zafar Alam on Saturday - demanding that the scheduled program of 25th be banned. The government has assured him of full security and said that no permission for the event will be granted.
The Church leaders also reject Sangh accusations of being active in converting people. "We don't convert here. And those who want to join the faith need to go through an inner transformation first," says Harris.
Another church official adds, "There is a process. A person can come and attend our prayers, read the bible; he then has to sign an affidavit at the court and take permission from the DM and only then can he get baptised. It is a long process and does not involve inducement at all." He adds, "For this so called ghar vaapsi too, there must be a similar legal process.
But what intrigues the Christian leaders of this town the most is who really the Sangh intends to convert. They know most members of their community, especially of their church, by name; they explain that even while shifting towns, one seeks a transfer certificate from the church. "We are 10,000 here, out of which they claim they will convert 5000. Unless they put up fake people to claim they are Christians, this is just impossible," says the official.
The numbers may be implausible, but it is the tone and tenor of the campaign that has worried Aligarh's Christians, including veterans like Prakash, the most. "This is the first time they are trying to disrupt Christmas. It doesn't bode well for the country," he says.