Jharkhand village boycotts family as three members convert to Christianity
When villagers of tribal-dominated Raghu Toli village in Jharkhand’s Lohardaga district came to know of 20-year-old Priyanshu Oraon’s plans to marry a Christian partner, they decided to boycott her family.
Three of six siblings of the Oraon family have converted to Christianity. Priyanshu and her brother Buddhiman converted in 2015. An elder sister of theirs had converted after her marriage earlier. However, there was no uproar over the move at the time.
Priyanshu got married on April 24. Community members led by the village’s deputy headman Sonamani Toppo held a gram sabha on April 18 in the wake of the wedding plans and announced the boycott.
In tribal hamlets of the state, conversion is not unusual but this village took the unprecedented step as the family belongs to the tribal clan’s clergy.
The government however, says there is no proof of allurement or force in her conversion.
Conversion is a sensitive issue in the state, with several reports of fringe Hindu groups often alleging that missionaries were using allurements and coercion to convert tribals to Christianity.
The BJP government led by chief minister Raghubar Das last year enacted a stringent anti-conversion law under which forceful or allurement-induced religious conversion is a non-bailable criminal offence. The rest of the family members, who still follow Sarnaism or Sarna, are backing the three in “their choice to adopt a new way of life”.
Sarnaism or Sarna defines the indigenous religions of the tribal populations in Central and Central-East India, including Jharkhand. “Is it practical that most members of the same family living under one roof follow Sarna and three follow Christianity?...How can we keep a relationship with the family and engage with them socially?” Sonamani said.
But the mother of the three siblings backed her children’s choice. “...Our family was under distress for long after my husband left us few years back. Then the same community never cared about us or helped us anyway. So why has the bond for community become so important now?” asked Phulmani, mother of the three. The sub-divisional officer of Lohardaga, Raj Maheshwaram, visited the family on April 18 but said, “The new law mandates any individual to apply for conversion in the deputy commissioner’s office. Three people have given application. However, since Buddhiman and other two sisters converted few years back, it does not apply to them. I conducted a proper inquiry and could not find any proof of allurement or force,” he said.
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