Four Million Hindus Convert to Christ?
Test Your Urban Legend Monitor
By Gretchen Passantino
© 2001 (Revised November 10) by Gretchen Passantino
I received an E_mail recently (actually, nearly a dozen in different versions) calling for prayer for a mass conversion of Hindus to occur in November 2001 in India. One of the the standard forms is a message from my Christian friend Rich Buhler's Web site, www.truthorfiction.com, a site that is usually good at recognizing urban legends.
The "wild" version said that 4 million "outcastes" in India would gather on November 4 for a mass conversion to Christianity. The "mild" version (such as that sent by Buhler's organization) said that 1 million outcaste (Dalit) leaders in India would gather on November 4 to renounce Hinduism and perhaps embrace another religion - via presentations by Buddhists and Christians (Muslims bowed out after 9/11) at the event. Neither version is true but both represent the "urban legendizing" of a kernel of truth.
It appears that a disaffected Dalit who is well educated and placed in the Indian government is planning a mass event for Dalit leaders who have essentially agreed (by signing a petition - 900,000 of them have done this) to convert from Hinduism to Buddhism at the rally as a public protest against the caste system in India. The leader is known for saying "I had no control over being born as a Hindu Dalit, but I now can decide not to remain a Hindu Dalit." At one time there was some conversation about allowing an Indian Christian to share his testimony from the platform, but that was so controversial that well before the rally date it seemed as though that would not be permitted. Even when the organizers entertained the possibility, the organizers wanted the Christian to show solidarity with Buddhism against Hinduism, not to urge conversion to Christianity. Some Christian organizations and churches in India did plan to take advantage of the mass rally to evangelize. Check the following link for clarification:
I have been very interested in India and Hinduism for most of my life. I lived in Calcutta as a child in the 1950s and one of my sisters has been a member of one of the most popular Hindu ashrams in India for the last seven years. Before I researched this report, I had doubts anyway. My research confirmed my doubts.
(1) Mass rallies targeted at Dalits have been common in India since independence in the 1950s. When I lived in Calcutta, shortly after the partition of East/West Pakistan from India, the Chinese and Russian communists sponsored mass rallies in the park across from our flat nearly every afternoon. Most came because of the free refreshments (for some their only food of the day) and the promises of the coming Marxist utopia. Few resulted in permanent, large "conversions" - to a new political view or a new religious view.
(2) The 1 million figure was a guess (on the basis of the promoter - remember Louis Farakkhan's "Million Man March that garnered far fewer marchers than he predicted or boasted?) based on how many people the event site can hold and how many have already signed the petitions. It turned out that the government, citing fears of riots and possible terrorism attack, cancelled the rally and kept many people from arriving in New Delhi for the rally. Far fewer than 1 million congregated near the rally site and the hotel housing the leaders, and the public renunciation of Hinduism (and the far less important "conversion" to Buddhism) was anticlimactic and definitely characterized as a political and social statement rather than a spiritual experience.
(3) Even if a million people had turned out, that is not an historically large number in India, one of the most densely populated countries in the world. My sister's guru regularly draws crowds throughout India at approaching that size when she gives darshan (a Hindu ceremony marking the touch of a god through his/her incarnation in the guru) - and that's at many places around the nation for several months every year.
(4) According to the organizer, a Dalit who "tried" Christianity and rejected it for Buddhism, the event is to publicly protest the caste system in India by a mass conversion to Buddhism, not Christianity.
(5) The Indian government has outlawed the caste system for many decades. Although it is so enculturated that it persists at nearly every level of society throughout the country, the law is on the side of those against the caste system. This event is an attention grabber, not primarily a shift in government, law, or religion.
(6) Sadly, aggrandizing the spiritual importance of this rally and adding grandiose claims of Christian involvement actually worked against the ability of Indian Christians on scene to participate and share the gospel even informally. The perceived threat of this turning into a gaudy Western Christian performance event prompted the organizers to disallow any official Christian presence or message from the platform and hindered the Indian Christians who anticipated an opportunity for effective evangelism on the sidelines. It also detracted from attention to verified conversions from Hinduism to Christianity that occur in India through the quiet, patient, long-term effort of committed Indian Christians.
(7) It's ironic that I was sent this as a "true" story from a friend of mine who is a world class magician and an expert on not getting fooled. He actually lectures professionally on how to avoid being deceived. When I pointed out the legendary status of his story, he was properly chastened and responded with two interesting points: Sometimes the easiest to fool are those who think they can't be fooled; and when he lectures on deceit (or reads the Bible verses warning Christians not to be deceived, etc.), he's always thinking he's giving good advice to "the other guy," and this is a great lesson that we can all be "the other guy" if we don't keep up our vigilance.