SGPC launches drive to counter Christian missionaries in Punjab

Amid videos showing alleged mass conversions by Christian missionaries in Punjab, SGPC has come under criticism from within Sikh community for not doing enough to “protect” the faith
SGPC preachers distributing Sikh literature at Sultanwind village in Amritsar district of Punjab. (HT Photo)
SGPC preachers distributing Sikh literature at Sultanwind village in Amritsar district of Punjab. (HT Photo)
Published on Oct 10, 2021 01:10 AM IST
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BySurjit Singh, Amritsar

The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) has recently launched a special drive to counter alleged mass conversions of Sikhs to Christianity in Punjab.

Amid videos showing proselytising activities of Christian missionaries in the state being shared widely on social media, the apex Sikh body has come under criticism from within the community for not doing enough to “protect” the faith.

Named “Ghar Ghar Andar Dharamsaal (sacred shrine within every home)”, the SGPC campaign is adopting means used by Christian preachers and other traditional methods to spread Sikh literature and teachings across villages in the state.

“The campaign will not only bring firmness among Sikhs toward their faith, but also make the young generation take pride in their history and culture,” said SGPC chief Bibi Jagir Kaur.

150 teams of preachers dispatched to villages

Under the campaign, 150 teams comprising seven preachers each have been dispatched to villages. They stay in the village for a week, and go from door to door to distribute Sikh literature. In the evening, they gather children at the local gurdwara to teach them the correct recitation of gurbani (hymn) and create awareness about the Sikh history, culture and philosophy. Thereafter, diwan (religious congregation) is staged by the preachers, dhadis (ballad singers) and kavishars (folk singers) to sensitise the community members about their faith and values.

A grand congregation is organised on the last day and an amrit sanchar (initiation rite) ceremony is held as well. The preachers also have an informal dialogue with villagers at saths (small gatherings at a common place in the village). In the coming days, the SGPC plans to double the number of teams with the help of Sikh missionary colleges.

“The drive is aimed at countering the impact of the mission being run by Christian preachers. We also approach families that have converted to have a dialogue with them and make them take pride in Sikh beliefs,” said Sarabjit Singh Dhotian, SGPC’s head preacher.

Foreign funds, alleges Akal Takht jathedar

Not just Sikh bodies, even Hindu outfits, including Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its affiliates, have been raising concern over activities of Christian missionaries among weaker sections, including scheduled castes, in the state. Many videos shared on social media show the preachers using various means to lure people. Hindustan Times has not independently verified the veracity of any of these videos.

The issue of alleged mass conversions was the key agenda during the Panthic gathering called by the Akal Takht on July 26.

Akal Takht acting jathedar Giani Harpreet Singh alleged that the religious conversion drive is being run in Punjab with funds from foreign countries. “Converting Sikhs to another religion is worrisome. When we don’t force anyone to join our religion by greed, then no one has the right to ask the followers of our religion to convert by greed or pressure,” he said.

Bishop denies mass coversion allegations

However, Emmanual Masih, Bishop of Punjab region, outrightly rejected all these allegations. “The Constitution of India gives its citizens right to preach their religion. Second, the allegations that Sikhs are being lured or they are being forced to become Christians are totally baseless,” he said.

Masih said Christians are a very small minority in Punjab while Sikhs are a majority. “How can we make any Sikh convert forcibly? Majority of Christians are poor in Punjab. How can we give money to anyone? Actually, some forces want to divide various communities in the state,” he said.

According to the 2001 census, Sikhs comprised 59.9% of Punjab’s population while Christians accounted for a mere 1.2%. By 2011, there had been a significant drop in Sikh population to 57.69% while the ratio of those following Christianity saw just a marginal increase to 1.26%.

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Monday, November 29, 2021