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Conversion of Sikhs into Christianity in Punjab
(March 14, 2003)          

          AMRITSAR: Religious conversions have generally raised the hackles of the clergy and bodies associated with the affected religion. The villages along the national border in Punjab are the latest affected, with cases of conversion of some Sikhs and Hindus to Christianity. Sikh bodies have called for revamping of Sikhism-preaching institutions to combat the trend.

           Village Nagoke along the country's border lies in Amritsar district. Lying adjacent to the border, these villages have witnessed upheavals of communal tension. Since independence, however, they have settled down to a predominantly Sikh and Hindu population. Happenings and reports over the last couple of weeks have shown minor signs of a will to accept change in the religious texture. Christian missionary bodies preaching redressal of social ills supplemented with financial help have gained acceptance among a section of the economically backward.

          Religious conversion is already a sensitive issue that has raised the hackles in other parts of the country. Here too, whereas some claim it to be a balm that Christianity provides, others dismiss it as downright bribery given in the name of faith. Says one of the young boys whose family has converted to Christianity, "As a child I remember my father coming home drunk and shouting at us without any control. There was no food in the house and we were reduced to beggary. Once, some missionaries came home and taught us lessons for a better life. "This made my father give up his bad habits and he started going to work. With the Lord's blessings things changed for the better. My father adopted Christianity and I followed suit."

           Another villager, however, puts it down to giving away of material favours by the missionaries who are convincing the villagers to convert. "When I asked the boys as to why they have converted to Christianity, they said they had been given cash and free education. In our village alone, 5 to 6 people have converted and, of course, their generations to come would also be Christians", he says.

          Prayer meetings like this one held regularly in the area preach the message of Christianity which is said to be attracting the populace. Six churches have already come up over an area of 4 or 5 villages. On their part, Sikh experts and religious leaders have called for an awakening on the part of Sikh preachers and social workers to revive the tenets of peace and equality that lie at the core of the Sikh religion too. It is all, they say, about getting the message accross.

           Gurbachan Singh Bachan, former Secretary of the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee, says " People who are converting from Hinduism and Sikhism to Christianity are those who have lost understanding of their own religion. "Under the moral and ethical extension programme, the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee, Singh Sabha, Chief Khalsa Diwan, Khalsa institutions and the Government need to educate the people about the values of a religion, and tell them that all religions are equal and no religion teaches us to fight with each other."

           Villagers who are against the working of the missionaries have urged imposition of control, if not ban, on their activities before tensions rise further. Somewhere though, this is also a pointer to maladies that have crept into Sikhism and Hinduism that need to be looked into quickly. Former SGPC general secretary Bibi Kiranjot Kaur puts it down as the failure of the committee of religious preachers. "The Sikh preachers who go to the villages and teach the message of the Gurus have failed to reach out to the people and change their attitude. They have not moulded themselves according to the demands of the day. They need to be given orientation and a form of training so they can carry out their duties in an effective manner, as per the demands of the changing times."

           The divider between religious groups working to remove social ills and, as alleged, handing out money and blatant incentives for conversion, is a thin one indeed touching on issues of ethics +and religious sentiment. The response, perhaps, lies on which side of that divide one is on.

Muharram Observed Across India Amid Tight Security (Go To Top)
(March 14, 2003)

          NEW DELHI: Muslims across India on Friday observed Islamic day of mourning or Muharram, marking the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, grandson of Prophet Mohammad, amid tight security. The day marks an event in the 13th century in which Imam Hussain was attacked and killed by his enemies at the battleground of Karbala, which is now in Iraq.

           In Gwalior, devouts carried Tazias (a replica of Hussain's tomb), in processions and jumped barefoot on burning coal on Thursday. Local residents said devouts perform such acts of self flagellation to enact the pain that Hussain and his men went through years back. "These men are performing these acts to observe the day of Muharram. We understand and feel the pain Imam Hussain and others of his tribe went through that fateful day.

          This day has been observed for thousands of years," said Ejaz Ahmed, a local resident. The day is traditionally marked by processions where some people flog themselves or beat their chests to mourn the death of Imam Hussain. Processions were also carried out amid tight security in Ahmedabad, which bore the the brunt of the worst Hindu-Muslim violence in a decade last year.

           Security was tightened a day before in towns with sizeable Muslim population such as Ahmedabad, Surat and Baroda. Muharram processions in Gujarat turned violent in the past as they have been attacked while passing through Hindu dominated areas. More than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, died in last year's riots, sparked by burning alive of 59 Hindu pilgrims by a suspected Muslim mob in a train. Non-government groups put the toll at 2,500. Muslims called off religious processions last year because of the riots.

           In New Delhi, mourners gathered at the Jama Masjid, Asia's biggest mosque, and marched through the thoroughfares carrying out processions. In Srinagar, Muslims took out the procession despite a ban on it since 1989. Muslim separatists have been battling Indian rule in the disputed region since 1989. Police detained people from taking out processions and arrested some of them.

           Every year, Muslims across the world mourn the tragedy of Karbala on the tenth day of the month of Muharram. It was on this day that Imam Hussain was killed by the army of Yazid, who was said to be an usurper of the Caliphate or a self-appointed successor to the Prophet. Imam Hussain was killed along with 72 of his relatives, friends and supporters. But his sister is reported to have escaped alongwith some children from settlements set on fire by the army of Caliph.

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