A 'dharmaraksha' meeting of Hindu Yuva Vahini (HYV) is in progress in a room and a group of activists are busy compiling a list of Christian families residing in the area. The head of the group Ashok Yadav flips through a set of papers.
"There are 53 Christian families residing in 14 villages," he says as he tells the members about the HYV's programme to bring them back to the folds of Hinduism.
Before the meeting is over, each member, majority of whom are in the age group of 25-30 years, is entrusted with the task to meet the Christians and woo them to become a Hindu.
"Tell them it's not conversion, but a simple ghar vapsi (homecoming). Carry the revenue department record in which the names of their forefathers was registered as Hindus," Yadav instructs the members.
That's HYV live for you in Barhalganj area on the border of Gorakhpur and Azamgarh districts, 350 km east of state capital Lucknow.
The HYV's 'ghar vapsi' programmes come amid a raging controversy over the conversion of at least 60 families in Agra and other Hindu outfits' planning many such events throughout Uttar Pradesh.
"We have succeeded in converting 23 families and efforts are being made to convince others for ghar vapsi," says Yadav, who is also the zila panchayat member and enjoys considerable support among the backward caste communities.
Earlier, he was an active member of the ruling Samajwadi Party.
"The conversion of six Yadav families to Christianity provoked me to join the saffron brigade and I become a flag bearer of the ghar vapsi programme launched by the HYV," he says.
"The Christian missionaries became active in the area post 1998 when large parts of the district were devastated by floods. People were forced to live in the open and faced starvation. The Christian missionaries launched relief programmes and motivated several Hindus to adopt their religion. That has not stopped even now and several Hindus, majority of them poor, have converted to Christianity," said Sunil Singh, state president of HYV.
Seventy-year-old head priest of local church pastor Y Samuel rebuts Yadav's charges.
"The missionaries have not converted the Hindus. The Church was established during the British rule in 1940 and I am looking after its affair since 1967," he said, adding there are only 12 Christian families in Barhalganj.
Pastor Y Samuel at his residence in Barhalganj. (Rajesh Singh/HT Photo)
Samuel says they were not lured at all while expressing concerns over the 'ghar vapsi' programme. He added it might lead to tension and social strife in the district.
Villagers have different versions - some talk about coercion and others say they converted out of their own free will.
In Derwa village, located 7 km south of Barhalganj, 60-year-old Devraji Devi, however, said her husband Jitan Yadav was killed when he refused to convert to Christianity.
"They put pressure on my husband to adopt Christianity but he launched a movement against the missionaries instead. They killed my husband while he was working in the field. I had lodged a case in the police station," she said.
In nearby Gaighat village, Triloki Prasad shows heaps of brick lying outside his hut, sent by the Christians, to construct a pucca house.
"I turned down the proposal when they told us to put a picture of Jesus in the house. The members of my community objected to the visit of Christians to my house. I attended the 'shuddhi' programme organised by the HYV to send a message to my community members that I am still a devout Hindu,” he said.
A native of Majhwwar village, Rambali Harijan said "I converted to Christianity due to faith in their rituals and there was no allurement by the missionaries. HYV members visited my house and urged me to reconvert to Hinduism," he said.
Subhash Yadav, native of the same village, said, "My father and mother converted to Christianity but I follow Hinduism and my marriage was solemnised according to Hindu rituals".
Samuel said an inquiry was conducted by the district administration over the charges of the Hindu right wing organisation.
"The inquiry officer found nothing incriminating and gave clean chit to us. We are running a hospital where poor patients are given free treatment and medicine," he said.
Deputy superintendent of police Sunil Kumar Singh said the police is keeping a watch on the activities of the saffron brigade.
"The intelligence sleuths have been told to collect information about the ghar vapsi programme launched by the HYV. Action would be taken if people are threatened or tricked into converting."