Caught between two faiths, village lets food have final say

VHP claims success in reconvertion, Dalits say Christ will return if assured of meals

Amit Sharma

Jamua (Jaunpur), April 26: LAST week, Dalits of Jamua village in Jaunpur district woke up to their importance in a game of faith. After promises by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) that their backward village will be provided with a pucca road, school, and hospital among other things, they laid down their Bibles and crosses and proclaimed themselves Hindus. A week later, they say they're ready to put Christ back on their mud walls if they're assured a square meal a day.

''We do not know what Hinduism or Christianity is all about, but one thing's for sure: with a Jesus portrait in our house, at least we get our meals,'' says Sadhuram. He and his wife Ramdhari 'converted' on April 17 after a ceremony that yielded them a signed certificate from VHP's Kashi unit that they were converting out of their own free will and a locket. Sadhuram is illiterate.

But he says he will no longer remain a Hindu, a view that's echoed by other villagers. ''Jaha bhojan mili wohi rahal jaye, (We will live there where we get meals),'' says Jaganath, a neo-convert, in Bhojpuri.

The barometer of faith seems to be free distribution of meals in weekly prayers organised every Sunday and distribution of books translated into Hindi. Though the Dalits speak of Englishmen who come in buses to spread the message of Jesus, the heads of mainline churches in Varanasi, around 30 kms from here, deny their involvement in conversion.

''Our job is not to force people to covert. This could be the handiwork of freelance sects working on their own. No mainstream church is involved in conversions,'' said Satyanand, president of the Indian Missionary Society in the district. Bishop Patric D Souza, head of a Catholic church a few kilometers away, echoes similar feelings: ''We don't convert but spread the message of humanity. Anybody can go anywhere and sell the benefits of conversion to people.''

The VHP, predictably, sees a conspiracy. ''They are working with the sole mission of converting as many people as possible so that their religion can spread. But we will not sit idle. Jamua is just the beginning and we will continue to expose the conspiracy behind conversion before illiterates and poor people,'' said Nandu, a local VHP volunteer. Their now plan to move to Ratanpur, Murdhi, Parapati and Sulanipur, all neighbouring villages.

It's a long haul for the VHP: the Dalits in this belt were converted several years ago, and swapping a cross for a locket is easier done than meant. ''We will put up photos of Jesus if we find ourselves uncomfortable with the new arrangement,'' shrugs Rajaram.

Referred by: Mukundan CM
Published on: April 28, 2001
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