Delhi, October 12 (Compass) — Residents of Gurandi village, Orissa, dug up the body of a Catholic man on October 4, 2004, and ceremonially “reconverted” him to Hinduism, along with the living members of his family. The incident was triggered when Bala Tulasiga, a 35-year-old Catholic convert, was buried in a Hindu cemetery. Purna Chandra Mohapatra, district president of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP or World Hindu Council) encouraged residents to protest against the burial. Rev. Dr. D.B. Hrudaya, general secretary of the local chapter of the All India Christian Council, said Christians had used the common Hindu cremation grounds on earlier occasions, “but this time the villagers objected to the burial at the instigation of the VHP.”
The incident took place in Gurandi village in Gajapati district, Orissa. According to an article in the <i>Hindustan Times</i>, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP or World Hindu Council) encouraged Hindu villagers to oppose the burial of Bala Tulasiga, a 35-year-old Christian convert, in the local Hindu cremation ground.
After the burial took place, VHP members convinced Tulasiga’s family to dig up the body and submit to a mass reconversion ceremony, where the wife, mother and brother of the deceased were also reconverted.
The body was then re-interred, this time using Hindu burial rites.
Sub-Inspector B.K. Nayak of the Gurandi Police Station told Compass, “When Tulasiga died, his brother Harish Chandra Rao buried him in a Hindu cremation ground. The villagers objected to it, and when the district VHP president, Purna Chandra Mohapatra, heard about it, he intervened as a leader of the Hindu villagers.
“The Hindus demanded that Harish Chandra remove the coffin because the body was of a Christian, and it should be buried in a Christian cemetery.”
When asked if the family was reconverted by force, Nayak replied, “The family members of the deceased wrote a letter to the district president of the VHP and also sent a copy to the police station. They said they wanted to bring the dead person back to Hinduism, and that they themselves wanted to reconvert out of their own free will.
“No First Information Report has been lodged by Hindus or Christians yet, but we are keeping an eye on the situation.”
VHP district president Mohapatra told reporters from the Hindustan Times, “There was imminent danger of clashes between both groups over the burial dispute. I intervened to solve the problem amicably.”
However, Christian leaders say the VHP forced the Christian family to reconvert by stirring up pressure from other villagers. The four or five Christian families in the village were disadvantaged because no Christian cemetery was readily available to them.
Rev. Dr. Babu Joseph, the spokesperson of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, told <i>Compass</i> he was “extremely dismayed at the fact that a Christian family was forced to dig up a grave, remove the coffin, and do the last rites according to Hindu customs.
“Christian cemeteries in tribal areas are usually very far off, and the means of transportation are almost non-existent” he added.
Joseph also expressed concern over the growth of religious intolerance. “This is a serious development in a society which has always respected and valued religious plurality. All communities should voice their concern.”
Rev. Dr. D.B. Hrudaya, general secretary of the local chapter of the All India Christian Council, said Christians had used the common cremation grounds on earlier occasions, “but this time the villagers objected to the burial at the instigation of the VHP.”
“The Christian family in Gurandi was helpless because the nearest Christian cemetery is at Parkhemundi, the headquarters of Gajapati district, which is about 22 kilometers from the village.”
Mr. V.V. Augustine, a member of the National Commission for Minorities, condemned the incident “because it is a case of forced conversion, which is illegal and harmful for society.”
The Rev. Richard Howell, general secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India, said the reconversion of a dead man showed the complete ignorance some extremists had regarding the true meaning of conversion.
“It is ridiculous that an attempt was made to convert a dead man back to Hinduism,” he told Compass. “Such a conversion can never be valid. The issue of salvation is resolved in this life. For example, the Bible teaches in Hebrews 9:27 that a man lives once and then faces judgment.”
Meanwhile, an article in the <i>Hindustan Times</i> on October 7 reported that Hindu activists had organized another mass reconversion ceremony, this time for the living, in Mayurbhanj district on October 20.
The report claimed, “Six members of one Christian family have already agreed to change their religion.”
These ceremonies are part of a renewed campaign by Hindu activists to stem Christian conversions, particularly in tribal areas. A similar event organized by the VHP in Mayurbhanj on September 19 led to the symbolic reconversion of 75 tribal Christians.
However, Christian leaders commenting on the September incident said the VHP had targeted nominal Christians who were not attending church services.
© 2004 Compass Direct.