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Conversion attempts in the time of grief
Shobha Warrier in Nagapattinam | January 24, 2005 15:45 IST
Last Updated: January 24, 2005 16:17 IST
When I entered one of the rows of temporary shelters built for tsunami victims in Pattancherry village in Nagapattinam, I witnessed a minor scuffle in a corner.
Some inmates had surrounded a Christian priest and two nuns, and a war of words was going on.
"We are Hindus and we want to live as Hindus. Why do you want to convert us?" some young men shouted at the missionaries.
The priest said, "We are not here to convert people. We were only offering prayers for your peace of mind."
But flashing some pamphlets distributed among them by the three, the inmates snorted, "What does this mean?"
The priest had no answer.
"Why do you enter our houses and pray?," they asked. "Your nuns do this when our women are alone at home. We know how to pray."
The young men were extremely furious. The priest was unruffled. But the nuns were shaken by the sudden surge of animosity from the muscular men.
The scuffle went on till the three were forced to leave the place.
As I was visiting the areas close to the sea that were badly affected by the tsunami waves, I saw another angry scene outside another temple in another village.
Police jeeps were seen parked outside the temple in Samandapettai. So was a van.
Villagers were complaining to the police about a missionary group to which the van belonged.
They said the group had taken away to another place their belongings and the relief they had got from nongovernmental organisations and the government, which they had kept inside the temple, because they refused to listen to its missionaries.
"They want to try their luck at some other place. Since we resisted, they took away our things. We won't allow this to happen," they said. "Why don't you arrest all of them?" the villagers asked the police.
The villagers' torrent of angry words continued. "We have lost everything to the sea. They said they would help us if we followed their religion. What logic is this? Are they here to help us or change our religion?" The police couldn't cool their tempers.
The group said it did not take away the belongings of the villagers and insisted that the contents inside the van belonged to it.
That evening, some villagers came with the news that the police had arrested the priest they had confronted the previous day. Apparently some angry villagers had gheraoed him, and forced the police to arrest him.
"He shouldn't be doing this when we are grieving, when we are suffering. Everything has its time and place," a villager said.
When I wanted to talk to the panchayat president and locals of the Karakkalmedu village at Karaikkal, they called me inside the village temple. That was where they met outsiders. The temple has become the centre of activity in the village.
Before we started talking, one of them opened the door to the sanctum sanctorum and pointed to a mark left by the strong tsunami waves. They told me that water stopped at the feet of their deity and then receded. "We might have suffered, but our Goddess saved us."
This belief had taken the villagers all the more closer to their deity.
"That is why it hurts us when others come and tell us that it was because of our God and our belief that we suffered. We won't let anyone exploit us when we are down," the panchayat members asserted.
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