Jan 01, 0001
The Sikh population contributes to 25 million around the world. Albeit at global level Sikhism is a minor religion, however, they form a majority in Punjab where about 76% of the population is Sikh. The state of Punjab has witnessed a Burgeoning population of Christians lately, which is alarming.
Being a relatively new phenomenon, which is not yet 200 years old, the Christian community in Punjab consists mainly of converts. Most of the early converts were from the Hindu community, but now, most of the converts are from Sikhs. A new wave of mass conversions is underway in Punjab, where thousands have reportedly professed the faith. Small churches are mushrooming 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. According to report, there are 600-700 churches in Amritsar and Gurdaspur districts that belong to Christian denominations. Around 60-70 per cent of these have sprung up in the past five years.
Christian missionaries have started to wear saffron robe. They are making statues of Jesus doing Yoga, Nataraj dance etc to lure people’s faith. New churches are being constructed in the shape of temples. The main targets of the Christian missionaries are Sikhs from the lower class and the Dalit-Sikhs. If we trace the history of Christianity in Punjab, the Christian missionaries were not successful to convert many in Punjab in 18th to 20th century since Punjab was late to come to the ambit of the British-empire to facilitate this act. Mass conversion of Sikh lower class into Christianity is the recent undercurrent spreading in Punjab. Thousands have embraced the new faith of Christianity leaving their old age religion of Sikhism.
The prime and foremost reason of this massive and probably irreversible conversion is caste-related inequalities practiced within Sikhism. Sikhs Gurus spoke of caste-less society where everyone is treated equally and ordained no discrimination on caste lines, which can be seen from the tradition of Langar (community-kitchen) and Gurudwara being open to all. The four gates of the pious Harmandir Sahib signify and is a symbol of the philosophy that it is open to all four castes.
But ironically the reality is far from this. In practice, the upper caste Sikhs do not mingle with the lower castes such as Ramdasias and Ravidasias. There is no inter-caste dining or marriage. There is a sense of social superiority in the groups who are at the upper echelons of the social ladder. While these castes-based discriminations continue to be rampant, Sikh intellectuals and leaders are busy fulfilling their political and material ambitions
Another reason for disillusionment of lower caste Sikhs is the lack of religious or social way in which the alienation of these people can be addressed. They are lower in the economic and class hierarchy. They are primarily labour class and no sustained efforts have been done by the religious institutions or by the successive governments to improve their plight. Even if a few of them jump the class ladder, they still do not find social acceptance from the upper caste Sikhs. So, they are easily amenable to the trappings of conversion spread by the missionaries.
Christian missionaries have fully used these fault-lines within Sikhism by providing social respect and financial incentives to the targeted audience. They use all tactics such as spreading lies, misinformation or disinformation and even giving incentives of various natures including financial. Another way is by giving them incentives such as free medical aid in hospitals run by the Christian Missions, free education, healing chronic illness and other financial benefits. Christian hymns are being sung in the form of the “Kirtan”.
The biggest reason for conversion is superstition. People really think that clergy can cure cancer and disability. They are then brainwashed into thinking that following any other religion will lead them to hell. Pretentiousness and fake miracles are enough to convince many uneducated people.
It is the severest crisis ever faced by Sikhism & may be considered a new challenge. The Sikh religious leaders should recognize & accept this and work towards fighting against it. The emphasis on providing spiritual nourishment to the Sikh community and using adequate funds for the progress and prosperity of the community is clearly missing which can engender more conversions in future.