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Posted Online on Friday 9, September 2005 15:55 IST

Conversion allegations baseless 

The Milli Gazette (online edition); September 9, 2005

Bhopal: A probe panel has found as baseless and unfounded the allegation that tribals are being forcibly converted to Christianity in the Jhabua district of Madhya Pradesh. 

The probe panel comprised journalist Lajja Shankar Herdenia, CPI state secretariat member Anand Pande and Father Anand Muttungal, spokesperson of the Catholic Church of Madhya Pradesh. 

The panel extensively toured Jhabua district for three days from July 19 to 21. During its visit, the panel met representatives of Hindu organisations, Christian missionaries, office-bearers of political parties, government officials and social workers. Besides Jhabua, the panel visited Alirajpur, Meghnagar, Aamkoot, Jobat and scores of small villages and hamlets in the district. The panel visited several government schools and government hospitals to make an assessment of their functioning. The panel also visited the schools and hospitals run by the missionaries. 

Almost all the persons the panel met unanimously denied that tribals were being forcibly converted to Christianity. Even Shri Arun Bhatt, who handed over the charge of the Collector of Jhabua on July 19, said that the allegation was not true. Shri Mahesh Agarwal, the well-known pointsman of Hindu organisations who has been leading the campaign against conversions in Jhabua, admitted that many tribals, impressed by the medical services and other services being provided by the missionaries, were embracing Christianity. But even he ruled out any role of coercion or force in conversions. Similar views were aired by young BJP leader and vice chairman of Alirajpur municipal corporation Mr. Pintoo Jaiswal. He said that there was absolutely no basis in the allegation that coercion or inducement was being used to convert tribals. He said that while Hindus were hesitant to "even touch" the tribals, the missionaries readily "embraced" them and served them in every way. The missionaries play a key role in providing services to the tribals. Mr. Jaiswal said that even his children were studying in Christian missionary schools. "My children have never complained that any attempt was ever made to convert either them or any of their friends to Christianity", Mr. Jaiswal said. 

During its visit, the panel also elicited the views of the people about findings of the Narendra Prasad committee. Not a single person approved of the findings of the report in its totality. However, many people did complain that they did not come to know of the committee's visits to the district. Others complained that the report was silent on the violent and provocative attacks on Christians by the Hindu organisations. They denied that the missionaries were engaged in any sort of anti-national activities. It was pointed out by many that it was primarily due to the vigorous efforts of the missionaries that the literacy percentage among tribal Christians was upwards of 80. "Is it anti-national to serve the sick and make people literate?", a social worker asked. 
The probe panel asked several Christian missionaries as to why they did not present their side of the story before the Narendra Prasad committee. The reply was that they were not allowed to meet the committee. The activists of Hindu organisations did not allow the missionaries to enter the places where the committee held its meetings. Especially, the Christians who were victims of the atrocities of Hindu organisations were not allowed to meet the committee. 

The probe panel was informed by government sources that Manoj Jadhav was indeed the culprit in the case of rape and murder of Ms. Sujata. He is not insane. DNA test has proved Jadhav's guilt but this fact has not been included in the Narendra Prasad committee report. Instead, by describing Jadhav as insane, the committee has only re-iterated the allegations of the extremist Hindu organisations.

The panel also met Mr. Khum Singh Maharaj, President of the Bhagat Samaj. He had supported the BJP in the last elections. He emphatically said that unless the government put an immediate stop to conversions, "the seventy thousand members of my samaj would beat the hell out of the missionaries and chase them out of this district". Mr. Gum Singh is also unhappy with the BJP. He charged that two BJP leaders, including MLA Mr. Kal Singh Bhanwar and Mr. Suresh Aryal were "amassing wealth". 

During its three-day visit, the panel also met former BJP Lok Sabha member Mr. Dileep Singh Bhuria and the new Collector of Jhabua Mr. Rajkumar Pathak. It may be mentioned here that Shri Bhuria has been the chairman of the National commission for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. Shri Bhuria said that Hindutva had never done any good to the tribals. To say that tribals convert due to inducements was tantamount to insulting them. Converting to Christianity gave them a higher social status. Mr. Bhuria said that the charge of conversions was being used to build "vote banks". 

The Collector Shri Rajkumar Pathak said that the administration would try to identify the reasons behind the conversion of tribals to Christianity. He said that efforts would be made to improve the socio-economic condition of the tribals. 

The panel was also told that one of the reasons for the rise in the Christian population in Jhabua was that many Christians facing the onslaught of the Hindutva organisations in the neighbouring Gujarat had abandoned their homes and settled in Jhabua. They chose to settle in Jhabua because they felt safe under the regime of the (then) chief minister Mr. Digvijay Singh. 

(LS Herdenia) (Anand Pande) (Fr. Anand Muttungal)

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