By Saeed Khan, Ahwa (Gujarat): Several Hindu leaders joined Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi in criticising Christian missionaries at a three-day Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) meeting that began here in the Dangs district Saturday.
"The constitution is against forcible conversion. The state, however, is doing little to stop such conversions," he told a gathering of more than 150,000 RSS activists.
"Mahatma Gandhi too had opposed forcible conversions. If he were alive today and were to say so, they would have lambasted him as well," Modi said.
He was addressing a three-day Shabari Kumbh meet in the tribal-majority district of south Gujarat.
The Shabari Kumbh, organised by the Vanvasi Kalyan Parishad (tribal welfare organisation) and Hindu Jagaran Manch (Hindu resurgence forum), affiliate bodies of the RSS, takes place amid tight security following the central government’s instructions to ensure safety of the Christian population in the district.
During the days preceding the Christmas in 1998, the district had witnessed attacks targeting the tribals who had converted to Christianity in the Dangs, about 350 km from the state capital of Gandhinagar
The meet, which takes its name from Shabari, a tribal character in Hindu epic Ramayana, began with a series of prayers and rituals at a Shabari temple on the banks of a river near Subir village, 35 km from this district headquarters.
Activists, devotees and saints took a dip in the river, named by the organisers as Pampa Sarovar, and followed by the ritual of yagna or holy fire.
Morari Bapu, a popular spiritual leader, also lashed out at conversion activities of Christian missionaries, quoting the Bible to make the point and calling them hypocrite.
"Conversion is nothing but an act of hypocrisy and sin when the Bible itself advises against it. Do you think Jesus Christ will be happy if they take undue advantage of poverty in converting them (tribals)?" Morari Bapu told the gathering.
"If the missionaries really wish to only serve the people, how come they are worried because of this Kumbh?
"There is no need for the Vatican to worry because we will not resort to the practice of conversion," he said.
Morari Bapu also invited the district’s tribals converted to the Christianity to rejoin Hinduism.
"Anybody can make a comeback to his home. Just have a dip in the holy Pampa Sarovar and worship Shabari Mata, you will be back home," he said.
Swami Satyamitranand Giri, one of the saints who addressed the meet, called upon tribals to reject conversion campaigns and asked for a provision in law wherein it is considered a "grave crime".
"In each of the huts, there should be regular chanting of Hanuman Chalisa," said Giri, blaming the Christians of spreading a false propaganda of insecurity and threat because of the Shabri Kumbh.
"There is no reason (for the Christian population of the district) to fear anything from the Hindus as we will carry our programme forward peacefully," Sureshrao Kulkarni, one of the Kumbh organisers, told IANS.
Jagadguru Shankaracharya Swami Vasudevanand Saraswati (Jyotirmath), Sant Asaram Bapu, Pranav Pandya of the Gayatri Parivar, Swami Awadheshanand Giri of Haridwar, Sadhvi Ritambhara and Sadhvi Shiva Saraswati are among the Hindu religious leaders scheduled to participate in the meet.
RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan, who arrived here Saturday, will also address the gathering.
Dangs-based missionaries called the RSS meet "hate propaganda".
"I have serious doubts that the Kumbh is a spiritual event. This would incite communal feelings amongst peace loving tribals," said Father C.M. Raphael of the Nav Jyot School in Subir.
The school principal, Father M.Y. Anthony, termed the Kumbh as "an attempt to eliminate Christians from the Dangs".