07 February, 2023 – Chandigarh : In a narrow lane, adjoining a dhaba on Nada-Karoran road, a Pentecostal church is witnessing a huge rush for a conversion ceremony on Sunday.
With seven churches coming up during the last few years, including some being run from houses, the heavily crowded Nada-Nayagoan-Kansal area offers a peep into the fast-changing religious landscape of Punjab. Some of the Christian missionaries make temple like churches, also called prathna sthal.
Caught in the cob web of “miracle waiting-to-happen” and aspiration to live a good life, a mix of migratory population, including the Dalits, is seen in large numbers at the independent churches for Sunday prayers. A similar scene can be witnessed in Kurali and Morinda belts.
Those thronging “Jehovah da mandir” want a dignified life. Unlike the mainstream churches, the presence of such churches gives the new entrants a sense of community as compared to the deep-rooted nature of caste in the region.
Local Government Minister Dr Inderbir Singh Nijjer said, “Converting faith by deception and making people wrongly believe in miracles is a matter of concern. Some people approached me on the issue. I am taking up the matter.” “The self-styled pastors of the independent churches are skilfully using words associated with the Sikh faith to attract the rural population. Terms such as satsangs, langars, Isu gurdwara and Jehovah da mandir have been introduced. From “tappe” to “gidda” and “boliyan” in the praise of Jesus in Punjabi, many cultural aspects of Punjab have been adopted for the transition in a smooth, comfortable, and lucrative manner. To fool the poor, charges are fixed for different categories of prayers,” claims Deep Dhillon, a social activist, who was closely studying the conversions.
“Why should others have any problem with us. I was depressed. But after listening to the pavitar Bible vachan, I was at peace. The local pastor arranged funds to construct our one-room house. It is nothing less than a miracle,” says Santosh Kumar, a Nayagoan music teacher, who got baptized three years ago.
The Tribune tried to talk to some pastors. But they refrained from commenting, citing their pre-engagements. President of the Churches Association Lawrance Malik, who runs Christ the King Church, Nayagaon, said the mainline churches had a constitution and set norms for becoming pastors, bishops, etc. “There is a difference between an untrained and a trained/disciplined pastor. One should verify and satisfy oneself before proceeding further,” he said.
Amarjit Singh Chawla, an SGPC member from Ropar, said it was a serious matter. “In the name of miracles, they are cheating people. A team of 100 volunteers hired by the SGPC to connect people with Sikh faith is showing results,” he said.
Involved in bringing back some families to their original Hindu faith, Dhillon said a self-styled pastor had asked women in a family to surrender their gold ornaments and men were asked to fund for charity in the name of Jehovah. “With the help of a mainstream church missionary, we made the pastor return the jewellery and blank cheques taken by him,” said the activist.
Prof Ajay Sharma, a geography teacher at DAV College, Chandigarh, gives a deep insight into the issue. Challenging (with proof) the new-age self-styled pastors who trick illiterate, poor and often sick people into believing in miracles, Prof Sharma claims that he went through the initial phases of conversion twice, once in Zirakpur and Mohali.
“The strategy for the middle and educated class is different from the one adopted for the poor and downtrodden. It takes two or three month after counselling for a team of 12 to 14 trained persons to work on an educated individuals and their families. Those desperate to go abroad are soft targets. In Jalandhar, a prominent Pentecostal church holds special seminars for those keen to go abroad,” claims Prof Sharma.
Courtesy : The Tribune