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BENGALURU: While the government plans to promulgate in an anti-conversion law to curb what it calls “illegal religious conversions”, the Akhila Bharatha Veerashaiva Mahasabha, the top decision-making body of the Veerashaiva-Lingayat community, plans to launch a ‘ghar wapsi’ drive.
The move has raised eyebrows since the community, with 56 MLAs including chief minister Basavaraj Bommai, is politically powerful. The community also forms a major chunk of the population although exact figures are unavailable. While the Mahasabha claims it to be 24% of the 6.5 crore population in the state, leaked figures from the HK Kantharaju Commission report puts it around 10%.
However, some BJP legislators claim Christian missionaries are indulging in religious conversions and are especially targeting people from economically poor backgrounds, including Dalits.
Goolihatti Shekhar, Hosadurga MLA, even raised the issue with the legislature committee recently and ensured a survey of unauthorised churches allegedly involved in forceable conversions.
“It may surprise some, but it is a fact that a section of the Veerashaiva-Lingayat community is becoming vulnerable to allurements of religious conversion,” said BS Sachidananada Murthy, vice-president of the Mahasabha. “Although the community is significant in terms of political influence and population, a large section is poverty-stricken. This is being exploited by those indulging in conversion.”
Murthy claimed “reports” from the districts, including Davanagere, Dhrawad, Gadag, Chamarajnagar, Mysuru, Koppla and Raichur, show “about one lakh Lingayats have converted to Christianity”. He did not provide any evidence for the staggering figure or suggest over what period those conversions happened. He said the ‘ghar wapsi’ drive is aimed at bringing these people back into its fold.
The Mahasabha has issued a circular to its district and taluk units across the state, instructing them to survey households to trace Lingayats who have converted to other faiths. It has also asked the local units to organise “reconversion” events with help from local mutts. The representatives of the Mahasabha said the issue will be discussed during its next meeting on December 23.
“We will collect data from the districts and then decide on the modalities of the drive,” said Shamanur Shivashankarappa, the Mahasabha’s president .
However, the move was merwith derision from a section of the community which is pushing for separate religion status for Lingayats. “The Veerashaiva Mahasabha’s decision raises many questions and it comes at a time when we want to revive the Lingayat religion movement,” said GB Patil, general secretary of Jagathika Lingayat Mahasabha. “They may use this to claim Lingayats are an integral part of Hinduism, but it is not true.”

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