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India Rally Fails to Yield Widespread Christian Conversions

India Rally Fails to Yield Widespread Christian Conversions

Author: Andy Butcher
Publication: Charisma News Service
URL: http://www.charismanews.com/news.cgi?a=709&t=news.html

Instead, thousands who took part turned en masse to Buddhism

A highly publicized rally at which leaders of India's millions of downtrodden "untouchables" planned to renounce their Hindu faith went ahead yesterday, but without the widespread turning to Christ anticipated by some Christian groups.

Up to 1 million Dalits had been expected to take part in the rally in New Delhi, despite threats of disruption by Hindu extremists. But media reports said that only between 8,000 and 20,000 turned up, while thousands of others were said to have been prevented from traveling to New Delhi for the gathering.

Those who took part converted en masse to Buddhism, reported "The Hindu." Ram Raj, who convened the event, said it was a historic moment, as thousands were "liberated from the clutches of the caste system," the newspaper reported. Under India's caste system, the "untouchables" are typically restricted to the most menial jobs and shunned by other groups.

In recent weeks the rally had become the focus of international prayer appeals from Christian groups who said the event could trigger a conversion landslide among the Dalits. One organization said that 300 million Indians were "in the valley of decision," and the rally was "a gateway for us to present the gospel."

National leaders criticized exaggerated claims about the rally and downplayed their involvement. They said their presence at the event was to show solidarity with the Dalits in rejecting oppression. They dismissed claims that mass baptisms would follow the rally.

One leader, Rodrick Gilbert, said that misinformation could jeopardize future relations between Dalits and Christians. "Some Christians have not understood the whole story and have spread false information, which is hurting our mobilization efforts," he told The Elijah List. "A lot of exaggeration about the event has damaged our efforts to build trust with the Dalit leaders."

According to one report, Raj had initially been open to Christian representatives presenting the gospel at the rally, but had been angered by groups he believed had misrepresented the Dalit movement to raise money.

Among those at the New Delhi ceremony - held on the same day as the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church -- was Tina Lambert, advocacy director for Christian Solidarity Worldwide. She said that it was a privilege to "be with the poor and oppressed of India and to offer our solidarity to them in their struggle for basic dignity and human rights."

She said the rally was "as political as it was religious," and that it "could be just the beginning of an incredible movement to challenge the caste system and offer hope to the poor and oppressed in India."

Indian newspapers reported that thousands followed Raj's lead in turning to Buddhism. Raj's head was shaved in the Diksha ceremony, in which he renounced Hinduism and embraced the teachings of Buddha.

In a prayer appeal before yesterday's ceremony, Dr. Joseph D'Souza, president of the All India Christian Council, criticized "irresponsible publicity" in the West regarding the event. The Dalit movement had "huge implications" for the country's minority Christian population, he added.

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