The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) recently launched a special campaign to counter the alleged massive conversions of Sikhs to Christianity in the Punjab.
Amid videos showing the proselytizing activities of the state’s Christian missionaries shared widely on social media, the Sikh Supreme Corps has been criticized within the community for not doing enough to “protect” the faith.
Named “Ghar Ghar Andar Dharamsaal (holy shrine in every home)”, the GSTP campaign adopts the means used by Christian preachers and other traditional methods to disseminate Sikh literature and teachings in villages across the state.
“The campaign will not only strengthen the Sikhs in their faith, but also make the younger generation proud of its history and culture,” said SGPC chief Bibi Jagir Kaur.
150 teams of preachers dispatched to the villages
As part of the campaign, 150 teams comprising seven preachers each were sent to the villages. They stay in the village for a week and go door to door to distribute Sikh literature. In the evening, they bring the children together at the local gurdwara to teach them the correct recitation of the gurbani (hymn) and educate them about Sikh history, culture and philosophy. Subsequently, the diwan (religious congregation) is staged by preachers, dhadis (ballad singers) and kavishars (folk singers) to sensitize community members to their faith and values.
A large congregation is organized on the last day and an amrit sanchar (initiation rite) ceremony is also organized. The preachers also have an informal dialogue with the villagers during the sats (small gatherings in a common place in the village). In the coming days, the SGPC plans to double the number of teams with the help of the Sikh missionary colleges.
“The campaign aims to counter the impact of the mission led by Christian preachers. We also approach families who have converted to dialogue with them and make them proud of Sikh beliefs, ”said Sarabjit Singh Dhotian, chief preacher of the SGPC.
Foreign funds, alleges Akal Takht jathedar
Not only Sikh corps, even Hindu groups, including Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and his affiliates, have raised concerns about the activities of Christian missionaries among the weaker sections, including scheduled castes, in the state. Many videos shared on social media show preachers using various means to attract people. Hindustan Times has not independently verified the veracity of any of these videos.
The issue of alleged mass conversions was at the center of the agenda of the panthic rally called by Akal Takht on July 26.
Akal Takht Acting Jathedar Giani Harpreet Singh asserted that the religious conversion campaign is being carried out in Punjab with funds from foreign countries. “Converting Sikhs to another religion is worrying. When we don’t force anyone to join our religion out of greed, then no one has the right to ask followers of our religion to convert out of greed or pressure, ”he said.
Bishop denies massive coverage claims
However, Emmanuel Masih, bishop of the Punjab region, categorically rejected all these allegations. “The Constitution of India gives its citizens the right to preach their religion. Second, the allegations that Sikhs are attracted or coerced into becoming Christians are completely unfounded, ”he said.
Masih said Christians are a very small minority in Punjab while Sikhs are the majority. “How can we force a Sikh to convert? The majority of Christians are poor in the Punjab. How can we give money to anyone? In fact, some forces want to divide the different communities in the state, ”he said.
According to the 2001 census, Sikhs made up 59.9% of the population of Punjab while Christians made up only 1.2%. In 2011, there had been a significant drop in the Sikh population to 57.69%, while the ratio of those who followed Christianity had increased only marginally to 1.26%.