Truth Behind Forcible Conversions"
Report of the EKTA sponsored inquiry team into the alleged forced
conversions in Ulhasnagar.
Recently there was a news in the section of media that Christian
Missionaries are using unfair means and bringing about forced conversions
on a large scale in Ulhasnagar. Since this 'charge' came in the light of
nationwide allegations against the Christian Missionaries, EKTA decided to
sponsor a inquiry committee to investigate the matter and find the truth
behind these allegations.
1) The committee visited different areas of Ulhasnagar and conducted
extensive interviews with the RSS, BJP, VHP and other Youth Hindu Groups
and with Ulhasnagar Christian Association. It also talked at length with
those who have been 'forced' to convert, and also to those who are using
allurement to enforce conversion. The committee also examined different
documents presented by all the sides and visited the house of one
ex-convert from where the idols of Hindu Gods were removed.
2) BJP Leader Mr. Rajani, who earlier was the part of the Press
Conference where these allegations were made, stated that these
conversions are going on from last 7 years (from 1992-93). Number of
prayer halls have come up during this time and every Sunday buses are
arranged to take the people to nearly Tabor Ashram where people across the
religions are taken there on the pretext of curing them. Since last 1 year
these activities have been stepped up and BJP Office has been receiving
number of complaints from the people about the 'Activities' of
missionaries because of which many families are feeling harassed. Mr.
Satyapal Malani, President of Thane Hindu Manch, which is a conglomerate
of many other Sangh Parivar affiliates, like VHP, Shiv Sena, Hindu Sena,
Hindu Raksha Samiti, Patit Pawan Sanghatan etc. supplemented that these
missionaries have employed nearly 200 young boys & girls, who visit the
houses, when the elderly male members are away to work, and they make the
'gullible' women and childern to woo Christianity. These preachers are
stubborn and they keep visiting houses despite refusal on the part of the
hosts to entertain them. Both of them especially Mr. Rajani said that they
try to 'trap' those family members who are under mental or financial
stress and prevail upon them to take their help for solution of their
physical or emotional problems. One Mr. Ashok Tolani, an activist of VHP
added that around 20,000 conversions have taken place during last one
3) They have extensively propagated the case of Mr. Purushottam
Chamandas Gurnani, whose family members have been converted to
Christianity. The committee talked to the daughter of Mr. Gurnani, a 21
year old final year graduate student (Chanda) about the press reports and
the allegations against her. She said that she has adopted Christianity as
per own free will and the activists of BJP etc. are trying to threaten
4) The role of one Mr. Soni Basantani figured prominently in most of
the allegations. The BJP/RSS activists stated that he is the 'major'
problem as he gets a commission of Rs. 15,000/- per conversion, Mr. Malani
went to extent of saying that Mr. Basantani has illegal trades as well.
Through his efforts there have been many conversions and one owner of
Regal Medical Store has been given Rs. 25 lakhs for conversions because of
which he has been able to open 2 more medical shops.
We met most of those who have become believers of Jesus through the
efforts of Mr.Basantani.
a) Soni Basantani : Became a believer five years ago. He had a tough
time in his marriage and was fairly 'happy-go-lucky' type of person. He
owns Shabnam Showroom. His wife Kavita first came in contact with the
Christian groups and gradually Mr. Soni also got impressed by the
teachings of Bible. He says he believes in it and tells his friends,
relatives and associates to come for prayer meetings. But there is no
pressure or coercion, its a consistent appeal. He gets along well with his
six brothers & five sisters who are non-Christians. He
has modest income and there is no question of his doing it for money. He
sounded to be deeply spiritual and a serious person.
b) Dinesh Chawla : Is a Christian from last 4 years. Studied Bible
and liked it. According to him it transformed his life. He has a modest
business and does not do active preaching. Lives in a joint family with
other non Christian members. There is no tension in the family on this
c) Mr. Prakash Vasiani : Owns Regal Medical Stores. Is a
Christian from last 11/2 years. He has medical shops. His 1st one opened
in 83, second in 1990 and third in 1991. He sells medicines in emergence
hours also. His medical shops are popular because of the availability of
drugs during emergency hours. Has a joint family. Christians and
non-Christians live together without any problem. He has lately been
receiving threats from the Hindu Manch people.
d) Similarly Mr. Jayraj, owns a VIP luggage shop and is a Christian
from last 2 years. Their are 'idols' of Hindu religion in his shops. Mr.
Shevak Vasiani owns a Timber wood shop and is a Christian from last 2and a
1/2 years. He is the only believer amongst his 3 brothers. There are few
Muslims also (Imtiaz & Jabber) who have taken to Christianity
5) Mr. Malani, the President of Hindu Manch alleged that these
missioneries are breaking the Hindu idols in the houses of Hindus. He
cited the example of one Mrs. Daya. We visited the house of Mrs. Daya and
found out that two small 'idols' one of Sai Baba and other of the Lord
Ganesh were removed from the wall. We asked her as to how this has
happened. She said that she became Christian of her own will and during
that time she was party to the process, whereby the idols were removed.
6) The number being given of conversions is highly exaggerated.
There is just a small circle of people who have taken to Christianity
during last few years, and most of the people kept taking the same names
over and over again. The prayer halls which have come up during last 8
years have been coming up due to people praying at their homes. There are
around 15 catholic/protestant churches, which are there from last many
years. Out of a population of around 7 lakh,s Christians constitute
around 12,000 of which in OT 2 there are 200, in Punjabi colony gate No.
1, 300, No. 3 OT : 1000 people, No. 4 - 2000, around 20 Kannada Christian
families live behind hospital.
7) At this time some minor family conflicts (eg.Purshottam Gurnani
family) are being given a deliberate communal color. False claims of
breaking Hindu idols are being thrown up. Hindu Manch has been
threatening the Christians with dire consequence if they don't stop
preaching and propagating. The allegation of 'commission' for conversion,
and hefty sums for adopting christianity are baseless here. In particular
Mr. Soni was attacked once, and he has lodged a criminal complaint for
that. Around him many people (but a handful) have taken to Christianity.
Mr. Malani's ire is against Mr. Soni and also against Tabor ashram, he has
been bringing out provocative leaflets against Christianity.
8) The committee also talked to one journalist Mr. Ashok Boda (Editor
of Ulhas Vikas) who felt that a bogey of conversions is being created
especially by RSS/BJP people as elections are approaching and they want to
consolidate the 'Hindu Vote Bank' by showing the threat of increase in
number of Christians. Mr Alex D' Silva, the first Municipal councillor
from Christian community and president of Ulhasnagar Christian association
feels that they (RSS-BJP) want to distract the attentions from the real
issues. They have poor performance in municipality and civic amenities
are at their worst with increase in traffic jams, pollution and inadequate
water supply. He pointed out that these actions of RSS-BJP are making the
minorities feel very insecure.
Conclusions : The present disinformation campaign initiated by RSS-BJP is
baseless. The propaganda that forced conversions are going on is ill
founded. There have been few conversions during last few years, but there
overall number is neither significant nor have they been achieved through
force. The exaggerated picture of conversions, and that too by projecting
them as being resorted to by force, is a supplement to the nationwide anti
Christian propoganda by Sangh Parivar and has been 'well timed' with the
nationwide anti Christian campaign. It also serves a local purpose of
consolidating the local vote bank for RSS-BJP and helps in distracting
peoples attention from the basic problems of Ulhasnagar civic life i.e.
that of transport, pollution, water supply etc.
Debate on conversions has already taken
ALL IN ALL
By H Y Sharada Prasad - Deccan Herald Editorial - Jan 23, 1999
Conversions are the big topic. There are demands by the defenders of the
Sanatana Dharma that conversions to Christianity be banned. Acres of
newspaper space have been devoted to the reporting of the attacks on the
Christian places of worship in Gujarat and elsewhere, to the minorities’
for protection and the reactions of various parties and groups.
The Prime Minister has called for a public debate on the question. One of our
columnists, in his comment on the subject, has said: “Not for the first time
history, attention is rivetted on conversions. Since Buddha’s adoption of
Buddhism, arrival of Islam in India, establishment of Catholicism in Goa and
Protestantism in Calcutta, the question of conversions has frequently attracted
It is somewhat odd to say that Buddha adopted Buddhism. There is a logical
inexactitude in that statement, for there could have been no Buddhism before
Buddha. He did not adopt it; he was its source and promulgator.If the
is awkward, the meaning is clear and the argument is irrefutable, that
from one faith to another have been going on in India from the earliest days.
Even the earlier Vedic religion was “spread” in India by its proponents. We
accounts in the Puranas, which are historical allegories if not exact history,
forest dwellers and animist tribes being made to accept the Vedic ways of
worship.Buddha preached a new path.
But Buddhism was not the only religion. There was also Jainism.Buddhism had
great mass appeal. Its emphasis on compassion, its avoidance of elaborate
ritualism and, above all, its democracy must have appealed greatly to the
Added to it was the fact that it received active patronage from a number of
families, starting with emperor Ashoka. Jainism, too, had developed a following.
We do not have any demographic evidence to cite whether the Buddhists and
Jains at any time outnumbered the followers of the older Dharma (it is
that there was not even a distinct name for it).
But there is no doubt that the orthodox were worried.For centuries there were
active debates between Vedic scholars and bhikhus and shramanas. The
interaction was not always confined to mere philosophical debate.
There were also skirmishes. There is even record of massacre of Jains by
Shaivites in the South. Friction between Jains and Vaishnavas also took a
turn on occasions. But such outbursts of violence were rare occurrences
considering the size of the country and its long history.
The record was on the whole one of coexistence of religions with full freedom of
faith. Freedom of faith has always meant freedom to propagate it. For centuries
there was a regular stream of propagators of Buddhism who went out to countries
to our east and across the Himalayas into Central Asia to spread the way of
Buddha.It is not Buddhism alone which crossed the seas and the mountains.
Hinduism also did.
That is how there were so many Hindu kingdoms in South-East Asia. The temples
they built survive in this day. There are Korean legends about a divine God-king
that country who married a princess from Ayodhya.
The engagement between Buddhism and Brahminical faiths continued well down
to the day of Adi Shankara in the eighth century. He played a decisive role in
re-establishment of the Vedic religion.
Even so, many orthodox pundits accused him of being a prachanna bauddha, a
Buddhist in disguise. Ultimately it was Hinduism’s capacity for absorption
to the disappearance of Buddhism from India.
Buddha was absorbed into the Hindu pantheon and was converted into an avatar
of Vishnu. A sweet revenge against a non-theistic religion! Jainism escaped such
absorption through the device of approximation in preference to confrontation.
What is notable throughout is the freedom there was for people to practice the
faith of their choice and for the preacher to preach and convert others to his
That is how Ramanujacharya secured many followers who had been Jains, and
Basaveshwara recruited persons from all castes, whether temple priests or
sweepers, in to the Veerashaiva order.
Sadly what started as a movement to abolish caste became ossified over time
into a caste itself. This happened with the Veerashaivas; it happened later with
In any objective balance sheet of the missionaries’ work in India, what
the positive side is the pioneering educational and medical work they did. Their
human approach to the victims of the caste system opened the eyes of the more
sensitive Hindus to the iniquity of the system and stimulated several reform
movements within the Hindu fold.
People who went to missionary schools were by no means de-Hinduised. Of
course there were a few famous converts like Keshub Chandra Sen and Pandita
Ramabai. It is no surprise that a large number of converts to Christianity were
from the suppressed classes of Hindu society.
This was true even of those who embraced Buddhism in the early centuries,
those who adopted Islam in the medieval times, and in our own times, those who
followed Ambedkar into the Buddhist fold.
It is not an opportunity to improve their economic status that impelled them to
so, but plain and simple self-respect. But what is more to the point is that by
walking out of Hinduism, they did not in any way cease to belong to India. In
fight for Independence there were many outstanding Christians in the nationalist
Prime Minister Vajpayee has called for a national debate on the legitimacy of
conversions. The debate has already taken place. It took place when the
Constitution was drawn up. Many eminent Christians made a contribution to our
Among them were H C Mukherjee, who was the vice-president of the Constituent
Assembly, M Ruthnaswami, Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, the Jesuit priest Jerome
D’Souza, and the Alvas, Joachim and Violet. We need not list the eminent
representatives of other minorities here.
There were extensive and earnest discussions on the scope of religious freedom
in free India. We had just gone through the trauma of partition. Blood had
across the land in the name of religion.
But the founding fathers had the vision and the courage to reject the idea of a
Hindu India and to stand firmly by the right to freedom of religion. That is how
Articles 25 to 29 which adumbrate the “right to freedom of religion” were
and incorporated as an important part of fundamental nghts.,Article 25 reads:
(1) Subject to public order, morality and health and to the other provisions of
part, all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right
to profess, practice and propagate religion.
(2) Nothing in this article shall affect the operation of my existing law or
the State from making any law—(a) Regulating or restricting economic,
political or other secular activity which may be associated with religious
(b) Providing for social welfare and reform or the throwing open of Hindu
institutions of a public character to all classes and sections of the Hindus.
Article 26 says: Subject to public order, morality and health, every religious
denomination or any section thereof shall have the right—(a) To establish and
maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes;(b) To manage its
affairs in matters of religion;(c) To own and acquire movable and immovable
property; and(d) To administer such property in accordance with the Iaw.Articles
27 and 28 provide, among other things, that no taxes shall be levied for
any particular religion and that no person attending any educational institution
recognised by the State or aided by it shall be forced to receive any religious
And Article 29 provides that no citizen can be denied admission to any
institution run or aided by the State on the grounds of religion, caste, etc.
jurist Soli Sorabjee has done well to remind us of what a law-maker with deep
Hindu sympathies, K M Munshi, had said in the constituent Assembly.
Munshi had pointed out that Indian Christians laid great store by the right to
propagate religion, “not because they wanted to convert people aggressively
because the word propagate was a fundamental part of their tenet.”
Another member of the Constituent Assembly, Krishnaswami Bharati, had
declared: “So far as my experience goes, the Christian community have not
transgressed their limits of legitimate propagation. of religious views. It is
communities to emulate them and propagate their own religions as well.”
So instead of clamouring for the expulsion of foreign missionaries and the
stopping of donations from abroad to Christian organisations here and banning
conversions totally, let our Hindu activists strive to give the people of the
Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes the feeling that they are regarded as
equals by the Brahmins, the Kshatriyas, the Vaishyas and the other backward
classes, open schools and hospitals for them, as the missionaries do, and above
all, work among the leprosy-afflicted and other victims of neglect.
Then they will begin having faith in the Gods of Hinduism and not go in search
new Gods who care for them. The Hindu heart swells with pride when
remembering Swami Vivekananda’s speeches to Americans about the glory of
We rejoice when the Ramakrishna Mission opens branches in the West. We
even approve of young westerners joining the Hare Krishna movement. The
numerous peddlers of Hinduism abroad are admired for their organisational
brilliance and material success.
Within our own country we permit bhajans and pravachans being aired over
loudspeakers. But we do not want Christian missionaries to carry on their work.
What kind of fair play is this?
Any move to ban conversions, any limitation of the existing right to propagate
religion, any attempt to reopen the Constitution, let us bear in mind, will
serious misgivings in the minds of not only Muslims and Christians, but also
These misgivings are not removed by donning black caps during Iftar parties or
meeting bishops. There is no need or occasion for a new consensus. What is
needed is to defend the consensus enshrined in the Constitution.
WHY so many Hindus converted and HOW
It is important to know WHY so many Hindus converted to other religions
over the centuries. Is it only because of coercion as some (read the Sangh
Parivar and other fundamentalists) want us to believe or is it that
conversion took place because a large section of the so-called low-caste
people and "untouchables" willingly converted (and also were lured by
religions and religious leaders promising them false promises)?
With the absence of any reliable statistics as to the number of people
converted from Hinduism to Buddhism, Vaishnavism, Brahmoism, Sikhism,
Islam, and Christianity and reasons for them to convert, this discussion is
somewhat subjective. But that does not mean we overlook this extremely
If orthodox (i.e., Brahminic) Hindus raise the question of conversion,
isn't it only fair that they self-introspect why caste-based Brahminic
Hinduism (which came later) co-opted and appropriated all the indigenous,
tribal, and such forms of religious practices and brought them all (mostly
by force and lies) under the so-called all-inclusive (read exploitative and
oppressive) umbrella of hierarchichal Hinduism?
Upon this background, question is, if people decide to convert to other
religions, what moral ground does anyone have to re-convert them? Can one
form of coercion (if any) be justified by another one?
I would like to quote D. D. Kosambi here:
"...Brahmans gradually penetrated whatever tribes and guild castes remained
in ancient India, ... just as the White European settlers in America
systematically destroyed the aboriginal natives ... This is a slow but
systematic process that goes back to ancient times. Ramayan, Mahabharat,
and especially the Puranas are full of such examples."
[D. D. Kosambi. The Culture and Civilization of Ancient India in Historical
Outline. Vikas Publishing House, New Delhi. 1992 reprint.]
As D. D. Kosambi observes, during this process, new gods were introduced
and gods unsuitable to the Brahminic needs were made inferior. "New places
of pilgrimage were introduced with suitable myths to make them respectable
though they could only have been savage, pre-Brahman cult spots. Buddha,
and some totemic deities including the primeval Fish, Tortoise, and Boar
were made into incarnations of Vishnu-Narayan. The monkey-faced Hanuman,
so popular with the cultivators as to be a peculiar god of the peasantry
with an independent cult of his own, becomes the faithful companion-servant
of Ram, another incarnation of Vishnu."
Partha Banerjee is the author of the recently published 'In the Belly of
the Beast: The Hindu Supremacist RSS and BJP of India -- An Insider's
Story'. It is a valuable addition to the subject by a former Hindutva
activist (Partha spent 15 years in RSS and various RSS governed
organisations like ABVP and Jan Sangh--which is now called BJP). 'In the
Belly of the Beast' has been published by Ajanta Books International,
1-U.B., Jawahar Nagar, Delhi 110007, India (165 pages, Price Rs200, ISBN