- Christianity is growing in Punjab, mirroring what states like Tamil Nadu experienced in the 1980s and 1990s.
- Small churches are springing up on the rooftops of many villages in Gurdaspur.
- Tired of centuries of casteism and systemic oppression, many Dalits, belonging to the Mazhabi Sikh and Valmiki Hindu communities living in Punjab’s border belt,
- Have started looking to Christianity in the hope of a dignified life and access to better education.
- Kamal Bakshi is the state president of the United Christian Front, a group that has committees in 8,000 of Punjab’s 12,000 villages.
- According to him, there are 600-700 churches in Amritsar and Gurdaspur districts that belong to four Christian denominations.
- He says 60-70% of these have sprung up in the past five years.
Co-opting the change
- The Christian faith has co-opted many of the cultural markers of Punjab, from turbans to tappe.
- On YouTube, one can find Christian giddas (a folk dance),tappe (a musical form) and boliyan (sung couplets), and songs
- The visuals show men and women singing these songs in a rural Punjabi setup.
- With 14 million views, one song goes, ‘Har mushkil de wich, mera Yeeshu mere naal naal hai. Baap wangu karda fikar, te maa wangu rakhda khyaal hai’(Jesus is with me through all my problems. He worries for me like a father and cares for me like my mother).
- Some converts from Sikhism don’t discard their turbans.
- “Clothes don’t determine anyone’s religion. I have been wearing a turban since I was a young boy. Why should I take it off now that I am a Christian? It’s a part of my identity,” a devotee said.
- Devotees also enter churches after covering their heads, as is the practice in gurdwaras.
Not changing their name
- While most Christians in the state use the surname ‘Massih’ to indicate their allegiance to the Church, many don’t change their previous names.
- For them, there’s a reason not to change their names: To take advantage of reservation for Dalits, which isn’t available if they convert.
- This is also cited as the reason census figures invariably miss much of the Christian population in Punjab, which then leads to negligent representation of the demographic in state politics.
Conversion in border villages
- A resident of Dujowal village in Amritsar district, she lives in a one-room house made of bricks, with no stove to cook on and no family to cook for. The only adornments in her house are posters of Jesus.
- Many Valmikis and Mazhabis living in Punjab’s border belt, in Amritsar, Gurdaspur and Ferozepur districts, have embraced the Christian faith.
- Dujowal, a village 2 kilometres from the Pakistan border, about 30% of the voters are Christian.
Anger from Sikh authorities
- This conversion to Christianity has irked the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, the organisation responsible for managing gurdwaras across Punjab and several other states.
- The committee has launched initiatives to ‘counter’ Christian conversion.
- One such effort is the ‘Ghar Ghar Andar Dharamsaal’ campaign, where volunteers go door-to-door to spread the word of Sikhism.
- Recently, Giani Harpreet Singh, jathedar of the Akal Takht — the highest seat of earthly authority for Sikhs — Alleged that Christians were converting Sikhs in border villages through force and by luring them with money.
Lack of political representation
- Even though there is a growing Christian electorate in the state, the community has negligible representation in state politics.
- There hasn’t been a single Christian MLA elected to the Punjab Legislative Assembly since independence.
- This lack of representation affects Christians even at the panchayat level.
- According to the 2011 census, Christians make up a little over 2% of the population of Amritsar district, and 7.68% in Gurdaspur, the district where they are most concentrated.
- News reports peg the Christian vote share in Gurdaspur district at 17 to 20%.
- Many Christians feel ostracised because they aren’t entitled to reservation benefits, even though their socio-economic profile is similar to Mazhabis and Valmikis.
Reason for conversion
- There are often two or three gurdwaras belonging to different castes, symptomatic of the deep-rooted nature of caste in the region. The Church gives a sense of community.
- 95 per cent of Christians in Punjab belong to the same class and the same previous caste, so there’s absolutely no space for discrimination here, as happens sometimes in South India.
- Dalits look to Christianity for the security and equality it offers them”.
- Access to good education is another reason people embrace Christianity.
- The staff of St Francis Convent School, Fatehgarh Churian, inform that the organisation spends Rs. 90 lakh per year on providing children with free or subsidised education.
- Out of the school’s 3,500 pupils, 400 pay almost nothing.
- The staff say buses get students to the school from five-six villages within a 20-kilometre radius of Fatehgarh Churian free of cost.
Q) Why Rishabnath also called Aadibrahma?
- Due to height
- First to tell Moksha Marg
- Religious Conversion
- Showing the path of livelihood