300 Tribal Indian Christians Reconvert to Hinduism

Bishop Bilung Laments Pressure by Fundamentalists

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BOMBAY, India, OCT. 20, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Some 300 tribal Christians were reconverted to Hinduism in the state of Orissa, during a public ceremony that ended with their receiving gifts of food and clothing.

The news was confirmed by Bishop Alphonse Bilung of Rourkela, the diocese where the ceremony took place, to AsiaNews, an agency of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions.

«Although the media reported that 80 families were reconverted to Hinduism, the truth of the matter is that 336 people went back to Hinduism as a result of force and promises,» the bishop explained.

«Fundamentalist groups are telling lies and inflating the numbers of reconversions in order to scare the tribals. This way they can boast about the success of their drives,» he said.

Bishop Bilung contacted the priest in whose parishes the reconversions took place. He was told that on Sunday afternoon a large number of Hindus gathered at a place some 5 kilometers from the Catholic church.

Tribals from three villages from over 100 kilometers away were driven in jeeps and trucks to the district of Sindurgh, where the reconversion ceremony took place.

Tribal Christians «live among Hindus and rely largely on the Hindu majority for employment,» Bishop Bilung said. «This is especially true in Rourkela’s iron ore sector.»

The Orissa Freedom of Religion Act, a law passed by the state assembly, bans forced conversions. However, it has been frequently used to threaten the largely illiterate tribals who can more easily be manipulated by Hindu fundamentalists, PIME’s agency explained.

Orissa is governed by the Bharatiya Janata Party, which promotes a nationalist and mono-religious ideology and is supported by fundamentalist movements opposed to the social service and development programs promoted by the Church.

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