Mass Reconversion Comes Wrapped In Saree
FROM SUCHANDANA GUPTA
Raigarh, Jan. 25:
The stadium in Sitapur in Sarguja district, 145 km from here, was the venue for the mass “reconversion”. As the grounds burnt with 25 havans (fire-pits) dug for the afternoon ceremony and the flames fed on gallons of ghee, 2,200 tribals from 341 families were “born again” as Hindus at the behest of Dilip Singh Judeo, BJP Rajya Sabha MP.
A new nylon saree or a cotton dhoti was handed over as the symbolic way of casting away Christianity.
Most of the tribals, who had not seen a new piece of cloth for years, happily received the mantra from Ram Chandra Mishra, the royal priest of the Judeo palace in Jashpur. The BJP MP behind the yajna is a member of the erstwhile royal family of Jashpur.
The “reconversion”, less than 24 hours after Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s first visit to Chhattisgarh, was said to carry a direct political message aimed at chief minister Ajit Jogi, a tribal Christian.
Judeo claimed his party had nothing to do with the reconversion. “The BJP doesn’t figure at all. This is my mission alone.” The “mission” was codenamed “Ghar Wapsi”.
The poverty-stricken, starving tribals who gathered since early morning to “return to their origins” belonged to the Uraon Scheduled Tribe.
A “purification” followed the “conversion” rites with the sprinkling of Ganga water. “After the ‘gangajal’, we administer two or three drops of the panchgap,” said Mishra. “Panchgap is a mixture of cowdung, urine, milk, ghee and curd. At the end, we ask the convert to throw in a betel leaf, a betel nut, a piece of coconut and sprinkle some water over the fire,” the head priest added.
A talisman with the picture of a Hindu god was tied around a convert’s neck, after which the tribals were served a hearty meal of rice, dal, vegetables and pickle. The BJP MP sat on a low stool in the open field and washed the feet of every “new” Hindu. “When the Church converts, they have plenty to give the tribals, be it bread, butter, medicines, treatment, clothes, rice, pulses, oil. We cannot afford so much,” Judeo said.
“So far we have converted no less than 1,65,000 Christian tribals from Orissa, Bihar and Maharashtra,” Judeo claimed.
The raj purohit gifted each tribal a copy of Ramcharitmanas.
Most of the tribals said they were “disillusioned” with Christianity. “Mine was a Hindu family. But some 20 years ago the preachers came. They spoke of Christ and equality amongst all. They said they would educate us, feed us, clothe us and that no was would be any higher than the other,” said 50-year-old Manjuram of village Jamdohri. “Food flowed into our home like we had never ever dreamt before. In return we had only to visit Church every Sunday. My whole family converted. But immediately after the conversion, the supplies stopped. The priests diverted their attention from us to our neighbours,” Manjuram added.
“You regret that for a few freebies you gave up the religion, your God, the belief that our forefathers nurtured for centuries. Birsa Munda was one amongst us. He fought the British for the country. And I gave up my religion for a few kilos of rice. It’s like you have betrayed your ancestors, your own blood,” said Gandhi Bara of village Katkalu.
“So when the offer came from Kumarji (Judeo), I readily agreed,” he added. “I have returned to my roots now. I will paint my house white today. Kumarji has said he will supply the whitewash,” he added, explaining that in this belt a Christian house is painted with black charcoal and a Hindu house is painted white or blue.