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Operation Homecoming

 Tough Talking 'Raja' Turns Tribals Back to Hindus While Christians Take to
                                their Heels

                         By Rajiv Malik, New Delhi

 "When we bring people back to Hinduism, we wash their feet and we give them
  clothes. We offer food to all who come.You see, we have our own style of
  functioning. We cannot give what Christian missionaries give. But we will
  certainly give what one brother can afford to give to another brother."

Dilip Singh Judev, vice president of the Bharatiya Janata Party of Madhya
Pradesh and a Rajya Sabha member of Parliament "

When we ventured a guess as to the religion of central India's indigenous
tribals, we innocently assumed it was some form of village Hinduism. So we
were startled to learn that in some of the remote villages in Madhya
Pradesh, such as Maheshpur, ninety-percent of the residents declare
themselves Christian. In the districts of Surguja and Raigarh it is
estimated that thirty-percent of the tribals are now Christian. According to
Dilip Singh Judev, vice president of the Bharatiya Janata Party of Madhya
Pradesh and a Rajya Sabha member of Parliament, "Christian missionaries are
converting 125,000 people to Christianity in India every year."

Judev is alarmed by these statistics. He claims this is the outcome of years
of Christian missionary activity and the millions of dollars brought into
India annually to support their efforts. "These missionaries are such powers
that even the central government trembles. But with limited resources, the
Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram is tackling this big power," he declared. The
missionaries' income depends on the reports they send back to America and
Europe enumerating the number of "souls they have saved" through conversion.
The larger the numbers, the greater the financial support.

Judev has embarked on his own campaign to reconvert to Hinduism those
tribals who were Hindus before the missionaries "convinced" them to change
religion. He holds mass "homecoming" ceremonies where such tribals are
ritually reunited with their Hindu roots and ancestry.

Some have termed his efforts a "war" against Christianity. Ironically, no
one but Judev has termed the Christian efforts a "war" against Hinduism.
Judev remains undaunted, stating, "I have never said that I have launched a
war against Christianity or missionaries of Christianity. But those who
observe my work are free to use this expression. I am certainly having a
clash with the missionaries. And this clash is inevitable. The only way that
this can be avoided is if Mother Teresa declares that they will not
undertake the conversion of Hindus and that they only do service."

Judev's basic complaint is that the missionaries are in the "business" of
conversion. He explains, "We are not against the service the missionaries
are doing. We are against the business they are doing in the name of
service. In their hospitals they are providing free service to Christians
but charge fees from Hindus. The Hindus who are unable to pay the fees are
advised to change their religion. Now this is business." In a February,
1996, edition of Outlook, a district official of Surguja concurred that,
"Access to education and aid in cash and kind was easier if one became a

Both Judev and Outlook report that the conversions to Christianity have
virtually ceased. Outlook attributes this, quite ironically, to "the
socio-economic development in the region." Judev has a different
perspective. "Ranchi is the nucleus of activity. It is known as the 'Vatican
of the East.' This is the area where, due to our influence and work, we have
brought a halt to conversions. Our workers tell the Hindus in these areas
that these missionaries are very cunning. We advise them to 'accept the
services the missionaries offer, but do not give up your religion and
culture due to the favors you receive.' We have also spread 'terror' due to
our style of functioning, organization and the hard work of our volunteers.
The conversions have stopped and the wheel is now moving in the reverse
direction. Under operation 'homecoming,' people are coming back to the fold
of Hinduism. We have remade 50,000 Hindus."

Fighting Friar with Fire

What is the "terror" that Judev boasts of spreading? It is merely the effect
of his outrageous demeanor. He is determined to act, and not to fail. "We do
not want spectators and directors," he advises. "We want active workers."
But what really gives his rivals cause to pause are his audacious
declarations. In a 1992 issue of India Today, Judev put forth his manifesto
to the missionaries. It reads, "1) The Christians used to sacrifice a calf
on Christmas. We declare that anyone who eats the cow will be in turn eaten
up by us; 2) We told the missionaries that for every choti (Hindu sacred
thread) clipped, we shall clip two throats and 3) I believe in tit for tat.
We have prepared a hit list of missionaries." Recently he affirmed his
outlandish utterances by stating, "I have to say certain things to terrorize
these people. If you cut one choti off a Hindu, we will cut off your heads
and offer them to Hanuman."

If he is bluffing, it is a very convincing bluff. Shri Dilip Singh Judev is
the former 'Raja' (King) of Jashpur, a tribal belt in the north-eastern part
of Raigarh district in Madhya Pradesh. Over six feet tall, Judev is a well
built, handsome person who dresses like a military general. In addition, he
is the hereditary "royal guardian" of the Korwa tribals of Surguja district.
He calls Korwa warriors to attend his homecomings as protectors and as a
convincing show of force [see sidebar]. To date, however, no untoward
incidents have been reported at any homecoming.

While arguments and accusations assail both sides, including claims of mere
political motivation, there exists a deeper dilemma. The tribals themselves
sometimes feel caught in the middle. The Christian's "assistance" sometimes
crosses into questionable "forced civilization," while the most traditional
tribals follow an indigenous faith not quite concurrent with modern
Hinduism. Massive deforestation of tribal lands has upset their livelihood,
and adjusting them to modern society entails a supreme transformation. In
the battle for the soul of India's tribals, we must constantly evaluate the
true benefits of our assistance.

Sidebar: Operation "Homecoming"

In the words of Dilip Singh Judev

"We have decided to celebrate 1996-97 as the Year of the Hindu. Our target
is to make one lakh (100,000) Hindus. But these are going to be people whose
ancestors were Hindus. We are not going to make Hindus of people who have
come from Britain or the US. We are only going to invite those who changed
their way of worshipping God due to one reason or another. To this movement
we have given the name 'Operation Homecoming.' The response to our movement
is tremendous. Just last week we have received five thousand applications
from people requesting to return to Hinduism.

"We only reconvert those people in whose veins there was once the blood of
Hindus. The charge that we are reconverting people who have never been Hindu
is baseless. We are making Hindus, Hindu--something very harmless--and there
is no reason for the missionaries to get upset about it.

"When we bring people back to Hinduism, we wash their feet and we give them
clothes. We offer food to all who come.You see, we have our own style of
functioning. We cannot give what Christian missionaries give. But we will
certainly give what one brother can afford to give to another brother.

"Now, if we are planning to reconvert five thousand, then we take around six
thousand people with us. If I were to go alone for the homecoming, and on
the previous night the missionaries assigned five people to thrash me by
offering them twenty thousand rupees each, what will happen? Who would not
do this for this amount?

"So, from the mountains we invite the warrior class tribals, the Korwas, who
always carry bows and arrows with them--all the arrows are dipped in poison.
If ten thousand armed Korwas walk with us, how would our opponents feel? It
does scare them. I lost eight of my colleagues in this movement, and there
was an attempt on my life. I am on their hit list. But it is no bother. We
know how to do tit for tat. I have a dedicated band of workers. We are ready
to face death. Please understand, these missionaries are very influential
and we cannot match them."

Copyright 1966 by Himalayan Academy. Reprinted with permission from Hinduism

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