Forced conversion in Bengal, claims Trinamool; VHP denies

Kolkata: West Bengal's ruling Trinamool Congress Wednesday claimed that over 100 Christians were converted by the VHP in Rampurhat in Birbhum district. The Hindu organisation denied the charge, even as its president Pravin Togadia said Hindus were not safe in the state due to the presence of Bangladeshi infiltrators.

State minister and Trinamool legislator Ashish Banerjee claimed that a ceremony was organised by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad Wednesday in Khurmadanga village in Rampurhat in which over 100 Christians were converted.

"The conversion ceremony was conducted in Khurmadanga village. We have sought a report from the district administration and our senior leadership is discussing taking strong action in this matter," said Banerjee, the minister of state for education.

Reacting strongly, Trinamool Rajya Sabha chief whip Derek O'Brien said the state government was ascertaining details and if there was "even a hint of coercion or forced conversion, the issue will be dealt in the strongest manner possible".

"Bengal has a long history of living in communal harmony and bigots like (Pravin) Togadia will be dealt with ruthlessly. Let me say this, if there is even a hint of coercion or forced conversion the issue will be dealt with in the strongest manner possible," O'Brien posted on Twitter.

O'Brien later said an inquiry into the matter has been initiated.

"Initial reports suggests that those converted near VHP rally are BJP workers who were lured," he tweeted.

Denying the charge, VHP organisational secretary Sachindranath Sinha said it was a Hindu religious ceremony and not a "ghar wapsi" (home-coming) - a term now being used to describe a conversion ceremony.

"The allegation of conversion is false. It was not 'ghar wapsi', rather a Hindu religious ceremony in which most of the villagers including a few Christians families had participated. We always welcome all those who want to come back to Hinduism, but here it was not 'ghar wapsi'," Sinha told IANS.

Another VHP functionary, Jugal Kishore, who was present at the Khurmadanga ceremony, said it was "not only the responsibility of the VHP but every citizen of India to unite the society, to bring those back in the fold who have strayed from the path".

However, many people who participated in the ceremony claimed they had voluntarily embraced Hinduism.

"There was no coercion. I was a Christian and now I have voluntarily embraced Hinduism," a woman told a news channel.

The Communist Party of India-Marxist too expressed concern over the incident, with Lok Sabha member Mohammad Salim saying Hindu fundamentalist groups were "polarising the state" know for its communal harmony.

Meanwhile, VHP president Togadia said Hindus were not safe in West Bengal and demanded the Mamata Banerjee government to drive out Bangladeshi infiltrators for the sake of the nation and the state.

"The Muslim population has been rising while the Hindu population is on the wane. If this trend continues, then West Bengal will soon become a part of Bangladesh. Much like Hindus were driven out of Dhaka and Chittagong, the same thing will happen in Bengal," Togadia said during a rally in Rampurhat.

"The Bengal government should initiate the process of sending back the Bangladeshis. If these infiltrators are not packed back to Bangladesh, then no Hindu will be safe here," he added.

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