Tribals demand ban on religious conversions
law to prevent government welfare schemes going to those who convert from the traditional tribal faith.A forum for non-Christian tribal people in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand has sought a law to ban religious conversion across the country, but Christian activists say the move is politically motivated to isolate tribal Christians.
The governing body of Sarna, the top body of 32 groups that follow the traditional tribal religion, at their July 25 meeting in the Jharkhand state capital of Ranchi, said it would ask the federal government for a national law to prevent religious conversion across India.
Members also wanted a law to prevent government welfare schemes meant for tribal people going to those who convert from the traditional tribal faith.
Babulal Munda, president of Sarna, said tribal people do not differentiate "between culture and religion. Our culture is our religion and it is like the two sides of a coin," as reported in the local Hindi language newspaper Prabhat Khaber.
"Christian missionaries have been indulging in conspiracy to convert gullible tribal people through allurement and force them to Christianity continuously," he alleged and wanted the law to "end this practice" all across India.
Currently, no national law exists against conversion.
However, seven of the 29 Indian states have laws that make conversions punishable with jail terms and fines if done without permission from government officials. These laws also ban conversion through allurement or fraudulent means but Christian leaders say such terms can be interpreted to cover missionary activities of providing education and medical help.
Jharkhand state, where 27 percent of 33 million people are tribal, is governed by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and plans to introduce a law banning conversion, reports said.
Another tribal leader Kailash Orao accused Christians of creating discord among the tribal people. Christian worshippers distribute the Bible and other materials that portray nature worshipers in a poor light, he said.
Jesuit Father Xavier Soreng, a social activist, said the tribal people's demand has come as the state government plans for anti-conversion law. "The demand is politically motivated and one that offers support to the government move," he said.
"This is an attempt to whip up anti-Christian sentiments in the state as Christians have always been accused of religious conversion," said Father Soreng, a tribal and professor of Xavier Instituted of Social Services.
He said Christians have "immensely contributed" in the development of the state offering medical help and education "but now unfortunately our services are used against us."
Christian leaders like Father Soreng accuse the BJP and its affiliated groups of appropriating the 9 million non-Christian tribal people, aiming to pitch them against the 1.4 million Christians in the state, almost all of them tribal.