Rediff Logo News The Rediff Music Shop Find/Feedback/Site Index
February 17, 1999


E-Mail this interview to a friend

The Rediff Interview/ Pratapchand Sarangi

'Their agenda is to convert poor people to Christianity'

E ver since word came out that Dara Singh, one of the main accused in the killing of the Australian missionary Graham Staines in Manoharpur, was a member of the Bajrang Dal, all eyes have been on this outfit of the Sangh Parivar. While the organisation denies any links with the alleged perpetrator of the ghastly crime, the spotlight has turned fully on what it is up to in Orissa, which has been racked by a series of attacks against Christians in the last two months, which culminated in the ouster of J B Patnaik as chief minister. The spotlight is also on the issue of conversions, since the Dal has raised this as a central issue in its propaganda drive.

Pratapchand Sarangi, the state Bajrang Dal president, tells Syed Firdaus Ashraf that while he is not against voluntary religious conversion per se, Christian missionaries were spreading falsehoods about the Hindu religion. It is just a myth that these missionaries are doing social service, insists Sarangi.

How do you view the work of Christian missionaries in Orissa?

Barring a few exceptions, Christian missionaries, to generalise, are idiots. Usually the Christian missionaries work as agents of American power. We oppose their proselytisation agenda, but we do not oppose it if people convert willingly. And, I must tell you, when the missionaries say they are working for the downtrodden, it is all a myth. In fact, their agenda is to convert poor people to Christianity.

But what is the truth in the case of missionaries is that they are converting poor people by bribing and luring them with material gains. The poor people don't know the Hindu religion as well as the Christianity. They are converting because they want to live an easy life since the church finances them. So, this is legal corruption.

But do you have any proof to substantiate your claim? I mean, have you personally come across such cases?

You see, this is not the work of the Bajrang Dal. And moreover, statistics on conversions is also not with the government as these things happen illegally. But we have some of our own records which show that the Christian population has increased between the year 1951 and 61. In 1951 there were 141,934 Christians, and they increased to 201,017 in 1961. The total growth is 41.63 per cent, while the growth of the Hindu population was only 19.59 per cent in the same decade. So naturally, there is a doubt as to how the Christian population is growing so rapidly, especially among tribals. So in the name of service to humanity, the Christian missionaries must not be allowed to do this.

What is the latest figure in 1991?

In 1971, there were 378,888 Christians in Orissa, and by 1991 the number had climbed to 666,220 as per our records. So you see, again there is an increase in their population compared to Hindus.

Let me come to the question of the Staines murder. Was Dara Singh, who is the prime accused in the case, a member of your party?

No, there is no person by the name of Dara Singh in Orissa who is a member of the Bajrang Dal. We condemned Staines's killing. Nobody can approve of the incident. You see, the problem is that every investigating agency is beginning its investigation in a wrong manner. The investigation must start from scratch and take into account circumstantial evidence. But what is happening in this case is that the investigators have already decided that Dara Singh has committed this crime and he is a Bajrang Dal member.

But isn't it true that in previous cases registered against Dara Singh for violence against Muslims, he was mentioned as a member of your party?

You see, it is the programme of the Bajrang Dal to stop cow slaughter through legal methods. And, it is said by the police that Dara Singh used to stop Muslim truck drivers and burn their vehicles. No cows can be slaughtered in our state, and if somebody is found doing so he can be punished with two years imprisonment.

But the point is Dara Singh was a Bajrang Dal member, isn't it?

I don't know. This looks like a fabricated story.

What about the police record that Dara Singh was a Bajrang Dal member?

How can I believe them? If the police knew that our worker was involved in such activities, they could have informed us earlier. But they never did so. So, there is no record that he belonged to the Bajrang Dal or to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.

Why is it that attacks on Christian missionaries have taken place in the last two months, with the Hindu organisations being blamed for them?

Orissa is a Hindu dominated and peaceful state. In the last 200 years these missionaries never faced any opposition. And you see today, every crime taking place in Orissa is being given a communal colour, against us. Be it the nun rape or the rape of the Christian tribal case. In the Baripada nun rape case, there was no evidence of rape.

In the same way you see the rape of the Christian tribal girl. There are reports coming in that it was done by another Christian tribal and not by any VHP or Bajrang Dal member. One of the boys who was with that girl tried to defend her when she was being attacked by the rapist. And then the rapist attacked and seriously injured him, and he has been admitted to a hospital in Cuttack. And probably no political person went to see that boy, but we went to see him and helped him in our own capacity.

Do you think missionaries are targeting the Bajrang Dal through false propaganda?

The Bajrang Dal is the youth organisation of the VHP. And naturally, these missionaries fear that if the Bajrang Dal flourishes their proselytisation programme will cease. So they want to finish our growth, for which they are lying and spreading false propaganda against us.

What does your job as chief of the Bajrang Dal's state unit entail?

The work is to spread Hindu ideas and organise them throughout the world. And to preach Hindu ideology, which is acceptable to the whole universe.

But are you involved in the re-conversion of Christian tribals?

I object to this word, 're-conversion'. The English terminology is not the same as parivartan which means returning to your own home after you were misled. And you see, people are changing their faith not of their own will but because of some temptation, fear or greed.

Why don't you go and work among the poor tribals like the Christian missionaries do and lift them economically rather than complaining about their good work?

The VHP is already doing that. If we are pouring water in a hole from one side then these Christian missionaries are making holes on the other side. So we are doing our work and they too are doing their work.

But why are you lagging behind the work Christian missionaries are doing?

No, no, we are not lagging behind. We have several tribal pockets of our own where the people are reacting to Christian missionaries. But our reaction is a moderate one.

In Orissa, there is a rule that if a person converts, then that person as well as the converter has to inform the district magistrate. So why does the VHP and Bajrang Dal not bring this kind of information to the district officials' notice rather than acting against the missionaries?

No, we have lodged our complaints, and we have written letters to various district collectors of Orissa.

But will you object if people convert willingly?

My point is that there are many cases which have been registered in courts. There are many cases of illegal conversions. For example, there was one case of conversion where I met the person concerned. I asked him if he converted willingly. He said yes. After that I asked him whether his parents were Hindus, he said yes. But you know, when I asked him about the Hindu religion he did not know anything about it. Interestingly, at the same time, he did not know anything about the Christian religion either. Naturally, how can we then say he is converting out of his own will? A starving man does not have any freedom, naturally he takes money and converts.

But these tribals in any case are not Hindus, they have their own identity, isn't it? Their culture is completely different from Hindu culture.

Now, this is a debatable issue. You see, the tribal culture is very similar to the Hindu culture and it is part of Hindu culture. It is more racial than religious. When Imam Bukhari went on Haj, they told him we know you are a Muslim, but what is your nationality? Was he a Hindu Muslim? He said no. Then they pointed out others to him, like Arab Muslim, Afghan Muslim etc, and asked him what are you? So this is not a question of faith, but a question of geographical location and long-standing culture which we cannot separate. Now, when a tribal converts to Christianity he stops worshipping the cow and eats its meat. Isn't it different from his culture? But these Christians argue with us by stating that you drink the milk of the mother, while we eat its meat...

The Rediff Interviews

Tell us what you think of this interview