Church, govt dismiss allegations of conversion in backward regions of MP
Since laws governing conversion are cumbersome and require prior notification, it is said that many villagers are ‘unofficially’ embracing Christianity without bothering to inform the administration.bhopal Updated: Dec 11, 2017 20:43 IST
Local politicians and activists in Madhya Pradesh’s Sagar district have accused Christian campaigners of promising education and jobs to poor and illiterate villagers to lure them to convert, an allegation dismissed by the church and the district administration.
Since laws governing conversion are cumbersome and require prior notification, it is said that many villagers are ‘unofficially’ embracing Christianity without bothering to inform the administration.
Sagar district Congress president, Heera Singh Rajput, said instances of conversions could be found in more than 50 villages.
“There was no conversion when Congress was in power in the state. But the situation in Bundelkhand has worsened because of misrule by BJP,” Rajput alleged.
He said that desperate villagers, deprived of proper education and employment, were proving to be easy prey for Christian proselytisers.
Even the local BJP MLA, Pradeep Laria, feels the same. “An organised racket is behind this. People don’t submit applications before undergoing conversions officially as it suits them and also benefits those behind it as the administration will not have any ground to take action against them,” Laria explained.
“We came to know about unofficial conversions recently and are trying to become the voice of poor people to stop such activities,” said activist, Kapil Rajesh Rai.
Both the district administration and the church say the allegations are baseless.
“Minority community institutions have been operating in the area for the past 140 years and are providing employment, quality education and health facilities to people. This might be a reason why a section of the people is attracted towards them, but I don’t see any conversion,” insisted Alok Kumar Singh, the district collector.
As per the Madhya Pradesh religious conversion law, one has to take permission from the district collector to change his or her religion. But Singh said no such application has been received.
Father Leo Cornelio, the archbishop of Bhopal, accused local politicians of orchestrating a campaign against them. “Our God taught us to help others, so we are helping people. But there are some who are out to malign us,” he said.
Amid the claims and counter-claims, some members of the Christian community, including the bishop in Sagar, have sought police protection. Father Alex of the church in Shampura said his community was being wrongly targeted.
“The government has failed to provide even a road to our village. Now there are people who are questioning our social work to misguide people,” he said.
Notwithstanding the heat the issue has generated, some families in villages such as Khajuria, Bandri, Shayampura and Badlo close to national highway 26 admit to observing Christian rituals, despite not officially converting.
Draupadi Ahiwar of Bandri said she never dared to dream of educating her children with her meagre income as a beedi worker. “But a church member told me my life will change if I start praying to ‘Prabhu’. I have started it for the past few months. I am happy now as from the next year, my children will go to a convent school,” Ahiwar said.
Ashish Yadav of Khajuria put things in a perspective. “We Hindus at times go to the ‘mazhar’ and the ‘dargah’ to pray. Does it mean we have converted to Islam?”