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The Sikhs are fighting the biggest battle of their lives and that is forced conversion to Christianity

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Punjab is facing today what states such as Tamil Nadu experienced in the 80s and 90s. Today, the largest Church in Punjab has a Sunday mass attended by 100,000 persons, and with a global membership of 300,000.

New Delhi, Nov 17: The issue of religious conversions is in news yet again after the Supreme Court took serious note about the problem. A Bench comprising Justices M R Shah and Hina Kohli said that if such proselytising is not stopped, it would pose a danger to the security of the country and the fundamental right to freedom.

While cases of religious conversions in Karnataka are on the rise, the problem is immense in the North East, tribal areas and even in Punjab.

The Sikhs are fighting the biggest battle of their lives and that is forced conversion to Christianity

The Punjab story:

While it has been spoken about for long, the real picture in Punjab and the religious conversions that take place there has come out more in the open now. There is a beeline being made to the First Baptist Church, The Church of Signs and Wonders and The Open Door Church & Jesus Healing Ministry. In addition to this, the Jesus Da Langar has also become very popular.

The story of Ankur Yoseph Narula is an interesting one. Raised in a Hindu Khatri business family in Jalandhar, he says that he was invited by Jesuits to become a Christian in a dream. Inspired by the sermons of preachers in South Africa, Narula set up his ministry with just three followers in 2008. Today it is the largest Church in Punjab with a Sunday mass being attended by 100,000 persons. His Church has a global membership of 300,000.

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Narula who describes himself as a faith healer says he has the power to cure any illness.

Conversions galore:

An India Today report had said that among the 23 districts in Punjab, the Majha and Doaba belts and the border regions of Ferozepur and Fazilka in Malwa have the highest number of Neo-Christian missionaries. An estimate, according to the report, said that there are 65,000 pastors.

Punjab is facing today what states such as Tamil Nadu experienced in the 80s and 90s. The Mazhabi Sikhs and Valmiki Hindu communities living in the border areas of Punjab have been looking to Christianity.

In addition to the spurt in number of Churches, there are scores of YouTube channels which sing praises of Jesus in Punjabi. The missionaries have co-opted many of the cultures of Punjab such as turbans to tappe. On these YouTube channels, one can find songs praising Jesus in Punjabi in which people in rural Punjabi set ups are participating.

Some of the devotees continue to don the turban, while the women enter the Churches covering their heads as can be found when entering the Gurdwaras. In some cases the converts do not change their surname, but in others they use the surname Massih.

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Angry reactions:

For the Sikh community, the challenge is huge. The missionaries have managed to penetrate deep into the system and convert scores of people. In the year 2017, several incidents of violence were reported in Punjab.

Christian protesters indulged in violence by pelting stones and burning tyres on the national highway. They gave an ultimatum to the administration to arrest Sikhs who they said had blasphemed against Jesus. The administration arrested four Sikhs, following which Bishop P J Suleman said that they were satisfied with the action.

This confrontation is not a recent phenomenon and has been on since long. The evangelists have been targeting the Sikhs for two centuries, but incidents of violent protests in recent times have only exposed the issue.

Operation Mobilisation:

Sabu Mathai Kathettu, an evangelist from Operation Mobilisation (OM), published a report in 2009 which spoke about the Christian evangelical work in Punjab. Mathai says in the report that the missionaries did not have a proper strategy to reach out to the Sikh community. So they reached out to the high castes. They realised the importance of reaching out to the Hindu high caste people in Punjab. Stock says that the Christian missionaries were convinced that winning the high caste was the key to evengelising the country as a whole... Later the missionaries turned to Chamars and Mazhabi Sikhs of the lower caste, he wrote.

He also points out how wealth of the Sikhs had become a hindrance for the Christian missionaries. Most Sikhs are well settled and secure as they feel satisfied with their own religion. Wealth is a great hindrance for them for accepting salvation. The Christian worker or the Church must make a strategy to witness to the Sikhs regarding their appetite for material things, he also said.

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For effective inculturation, satsang style of worship services should be conducted in the local languages with kirtans accompanied with local music. Also singing Bhajans should be included in worship. Bhajans and Kirtans are the appropriate method for communicating the Word of God effectively to the Sikh community... Every morning and evening the scripture should be broadcasted from the church as is done in the Gurudwara, Mathai also said.

Christian workers should also learn and use Punjabi terms. The church can be called Kristh Gurudwara or any appropriate words can be used... Also the term 'pastor' or 'priest' can be replaced by 'Granti' or 'Giani'. It is best for believers to be called Isa da Sikh, he further wrote.

The battle ahead:

As per the 2011 census, there were only 1.5 per cent Christians in Punjab. While this may seem like a very small number, in reality the demographic in the state has changed drastically.

The reason why the numbers look small is because many do not change their names in order to take advantage of reservation. This benefit is not available if a person converts and the same makes it on paper. This is the primary reason why there is such a mismatch in the actual numbers and the census figures.

People in the know OneIndia spoke with say that the problem is so rampant that it is translating into anger among the Sikhs who have stayed away from these missionaries. They are aware that they are fighting the toughest battle of their lives as the menace has become widespread.

Recently, the acting Akal Takht Jathedar, the highest temporal seat of Sikhism, Giani Harpreet Singh said that the Sikh community needs to seriously think about demanding an anti-conversion law in Punjab. He warned that the practice of conversion will not be tolerated anymore. He had in the past too spoken about this while singling out the spread of Christianity as a threat to the survival of the Sikh religion in Punjab.

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