Ground Reports

Ground Report: Inside The Bihar Village Where Residents Protested And Stopped A Christian Conversion Event

Swati Goel Sharma

Aug 19, 2023, 04:07 PM | Updated Aug 21, 2023, 07:58 PM IST

Villagers who stopped a Christian conversion event on 30 July
Villagers who stopped a Christian conversion event on 30 July
  • Residents of this village in Bihar narrate how they came together to thwart a proselytizing event. 
  • In regions most affected by aggressive Christian proselytization, a wave of civil unrest has recently surged.

    Villagers have confronted the conversion activities, new churches have been the targets of vandalism, and groups involved in fostering conversions have faced both physical and social opposition.

    Such occurrences have been documented in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

    A village in Bihar's Sitamarhi district was the backdrop of such a confrontation two weeks ago. An assembly of villagers protested against a group that had come from outside, accusing them of attempting to convert locals to Christianity.

    Police were summoned, and members of the group were asked to recite Hindu prayers such as Hanuman Chalisa and Gayatri Mantra as evidence of their defence that they were not evangelists and retained their Hindu identity.

    Videos of the incident were widely circulated in the state. Local media covered it too.

    Swarajya travelled to the site of the confrontation this week. In Dumri kalan village, which falls under Majorganj police station and is around 24 kilometers from Sitamarhi railway station, the local sentiment was one of pride at the resistance offered to the “converters”.

    One of the leaders of the agitation was Prem Ranjan Singh alias Bittu, 35. Narrating the events of 30 July, he said that Renu Devi, who lives in an adjoining village named Hareram, visited Dumri kalan along with a group of unfamiliar women. She was about to proceed with a prayer meeting at the house of a resident named Nandu Pandit when Prem Ranjan and 70-80 other villagers interrupted it. They had come with a policeman.

    Prem Ranjan told Swarajya, “When Renu Devi denied our charges of conversion attempts and said she was still Hindu, we demanded she recites Gayatri Mantra and Hanuman Chalisa in front of everyone.”

    “She didn’t," he added.

    The police officer tried to quell tensions even as verbal demands for Renu Devi’s arrest were made, and the prayer meeting was halted.

    Dumri kalan village
    Dumri kalan village
    Inside the Dumri kalan village
    Inside the Dumri kalan village
    Inside the Dumri kalan village
    Inside the Dumri kalan village
    Inside the Dumri kalan village
    Inside the Dumri kalan village
    Screenshot from a video of 30 July when an alleged conversion event was disrupted
    Screenshot from a video of 30 July when an alleged conversion event was disrupted
    Screenshot from a video of 30 July when an alleged conversion event was disrupted
    Screenshot from a video of 30 July when an alleged conversion event was disrupted

    According to Prem Ranjan, the conversion trail in the village began with the daughter-in-law of a resident named Rajendra Paswan about a year ago after she made connections with a Christian center in Sitamarhi.

    The villagers learnt about the conversion when Rajendra’s family deviated from Hindu customs at the funeral of his wife last year.

    The daughter-in-law, Pinki, played a pivotal role in the conversion of around 20 families in Hareram village in the coming months, he said.

    Talking to Swarajya, Rajendra, who is from a scheduled caste, denied the allegations of conversion. He insisted that he hadn't converted to any other religion. Instead, he had only started worshipping “Pita Parmeshwar”, he said.

    Surprisingly, he refuted claims of his conversion by repeatedly stressing that he had not adopted Islam. “Hum Musalman nahi bane hain [we have not become Muslim],” he said.

    When the term 'Christianity' was mentioned, Rajendra drew a blank. Asked what he understood by the term ‘Pita Parmeshwar’, Rajendra said it referred to a higher soul that protects all lives like a father.

    Pinki was reluctant to speak. Clad in sari, she said her husband had been ill for several years but became healthy after she started attending a prayer centre in Sitamarhi.

    Rajendra Paswan speaking to Swarajya
    Rajendra Paswan speaking to Swarajya
    Pinki speaking to Swarajya
    Pinki speaking to Swarajya

    Dumri kalan is a small village of only about 1,500 people. The demography mainly comprises scheduled or ‘lower’ castes such as Paswans, Badhai, Kumhar, Jatav and Nai. The rest are Rajput families; about 25 families are Muslim.

    Prem Ranjan believes the villagers being targeted for conversion are easily swayed due to their simple nature and poverty. He said they are so ignorant that they are unable to discern between Islam and Christianity or understand that they were being driven out of the Hindu fold.

    “The term 'Pita Parmeshwar' is misleading. They don’t know it refers to Jesus Christ,” he said.

    Inside Rajendra’s house, we did not find a picture of Jesus Christ. There were some pictures of Hindu deities including Krishna pasted on the walls.

    Prem Ranjan narrated the events leading to the agitation on 30 July. He and his allies received information about a Christian prayer meeting to be held about a week earlier. They decided to "beat up" the group.

    Contrary to their expectations, the group that arrived in the village comprised only women. Prem Ranjan and his allies then gathered women from their respective families and thronged the prayer meeting. They forced a policeman from the Majorganj police station to visit.

    They also snatched the religious book being used. Prem Ranjan showed the copy to Swarajya correspondent.

    The book's content page and a random selection of two pages are attached below. The text makes it clear that it is Christian literature.

    The event garnered attention after a video went viral, drawing the regional media's eye. Law enforcement intervened, and a team of policemen visited the Paswan family for questioning.

    To “restore harmony”, Prem Ranjan and his allies organised a Satyanarayan path with the participation of those who had attended the prayer meeting.

    “15 out of 20 newly converted families sat in our puja,” he said.

    We talked to Dulari Devi, wife of Nandu Pandit, who hosted the prayer event. Dulari and Nandu were made to attend the Satyanarayan puja by Prem Ranjan and his group.

    She expressed her anguish at being “maligned” in public, saying that any issues should have been addressed directly with her and her husband.

    “If they had any issue, they should have talked to us about it directly. What was the need to raise a ruckus and malign us in front of other villagers?”

    She said her son was mentally ill, and Pinki told her that if she started worshipping Pita Parmeshwar, he would “recover”. Asked if her son was better, she said she had not worshipped Pita Parmeshwar enough.

    She said that after attending the Satyanarayan puja, villagers who had stopped talking to her resumed doing so, and it was a relief to her. She however expressed her dismay at her son’s health, saying that all she wanted was him to be fine and normal. 

    She denied conversion ambitions in the first place and, like Rajendra, said that her family “had not become Musalman”.

    Inside her house, too, no recognisable Christian symbols or imagery were found. There were pictures of Hindu gods in a corner.

    When shown a downloaded image of Christ on mobile phone, she failed to recognise him.

    Dulari Devi with her son, who is ill
    Dulari Devi with her son, who is ill

    Prabhakar Singh, who is from the Rajput caste and opposed the prayer event, said the Christian centre at Sitamarhi lured poor, ignorant villagers by promising them miraculous healing from illnesses.

    He said the core strategy of the “converters” was to first attract families to worship ‘Pita Parmeshwar’, then to detach them from Hindu worship, followed by the introduction of new rituals.

    “Their aim is to make the families stop dhoop-batti puja immediately. Then comes the next step – different rituals for funeral and marriage.”

    Drawing a parallel with referral marketing, he said that monetary incentives were given to families who introduced others to Christian centres.

    “A family that starts attending a Christian centre is given money to the tune of Rs 10,000 a month. They must bring at least five more families in the Christian fold to keep getting the money,” he said. 

    Asked about the source of his information, he said he relied on a network of informants across Bihar and that he had been monitoring such conversion activities for months. “After Rajendra’s family refused Hindu rites after his wife’s death, I became attentive towards the issue. Then slowly, after talking to my friends from other villages and other parts of Bihar, I learnt about the game,” he said. 

    Not only people from the ‘upper’ Rajput caste, but also those from 'lower' castes opposed the conversion event.

    Subodh Paswan, a neighbour of Rajendra, was among those who disrupted the event. Asked about his reasons for opposing it, Subodh said, “This is not good for the society. Once they convert, they start eating cow meat and pork.” 

    He said that families under influence of “converters” remove pictures of Hindu gods, “insult Sanatana Dharma” and “become different”. “This is not good for the village,” he argued.

    Prem Ranjan Singh alias Bittu
    Prem Ranjan Singh alias Bittu
    Subodh Paswan
    Subodh Paswan
    Prabhakar Singh
    Prabhakar Singh

    Post the Dumri kalan incident, Prem Ranjan said he was approached by a nearby village, Mubarakpur, to thwart similar activities. He and his group reached there and disrupted a prayer sabha.

    He said he planned to do it in other villages too, provided it was Sunday. “Usually Thursdays and Sundays are chosen for such events, but I can go only on Sundays,” he said.

    All three – Prem Ranjan, Prabhakar and Subodh – said they were not affiliated with any Hindu nationalist group, but identified as “proud and aware Hindus”.

    (Note: The ground visit was made by Prabhat Kumar, an intern with Swarajya. The report has been written by Swati Goel Sharma based on his inputs and further telephonic conversations with villagers.)

    Swati Goel Sharma is a senior editor at Swarajya. She tweets at @swati_gs.


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