In 2001, Punjab had almost 67% of its population identifying as Sikhs. Ten years later, the number reduced to about 60%. During the same period, the followers of Christianity in Punjab increased to about 2%. Statistically, we cannot draw a direct co-relation between the two figures as they are many variables that we need to account for, but at the surface, we can sure about one thing: Christianity has seen a spectacular rise in Punjab. Christianity witnesses rise on the back of its missionary programs, a well-oiled machinery powered by the Church and its adherents. Lately, so-called independent or home churches have been sprouting across the state. They invite people under false pretences and prey on their insecurities to present a damning narrative of their current religion and to portray a rosy picture of Christianity.
Several reports indicate that the main target group for them is ‘Sikh Dalits’. This is not a term that many would be familiar with. One of the main tenets of Sikhism espoused by Guru Nanak Ji was the equality of the masses. That means the caste system is not supposed to exist within Sikhism. But the ground reality is different. It still very much exists, as is evident newspaper marriage advertisements where people increasingly look to wed their children within their own caste. This has reinforced a social hierarchy that has been prevalent for centuries. However, it should be pondered upon that the issue lies with the masses, rather than philosophy of Sikhism. An example of the extent to which Sikhism believes in equality can be gauged from the way Gurdwaras are structured. Each sanctum-sanctorum has four gates opening to all four directions, an indication that all the four varnas of the caste system are welcome. Everyone sits on the same level ground and eats langar in a row, irrespective of their social status.
Missionaries ignore these facts and entice people to churches using promises of free education, money, free healthcare or miraculous healing of chronic illnesses, and other forms of compensation—all in favour of them converting to Christianity. There have been cases where people are offered visas to Canada, USA or other countries in exchange for shifting their faith. In the lower economic strata, these benefits can outweigh their urge to remain faithful to their community.
Further, some churches are being constructed along the lines of Gurudwaras and temples, so that the potential converts do not feel alienated in the new environment. Christian hymns have been adapted too. At places, they are sung in the form of “kirtan” or “bhajan”. Although it may all appear to be random, but as we dig in deep into the phenomenal rise of Christianity, patterns begin to emerge. For instance, in 2009, Indian Society for Promoting Religious Knowledge (ISPCK) published a guide on how to convert Sikhs to Christianity and even provided a theological justification for doing that. It shows that there is an organised effort to target vulnerable rural Sikh masses, all aided by foreign and domestic funding.
It should be made evident here that the Constitution allows us freedom of religion. People are free to preach their faith to others. However, things get murkier when illicit means are used to do it. All in all, it is clear that Sikhs have a new monumental challenge to face, a challenge that will be increasingly difficult to face given that it is driven by global forces. Although Sikh religious and political leaders have taken cognizance of the matter, but they must do more and rally the masses together to face the new adversary.