Mumbai: The close-knit Sindhi community in Ulhasnagar, north-east of Mumbai, is undergoing a social upheaval of sorts. Over the last two years, a sizeable number in the township — primarily created for Sindhis who came in as refugees from Pakistan’s Sindh province after partition — have drifted away from Hinduism and embraced Christianity.The “conversions” have sent shockwaves among the community elders, specially since Indian Sindhis, weighed down by the scars of partition, are known to be staunch followers of Hinduism.
Most of those who are shifting their faith allegiance to Christianity are in their 40s and, in fact, had been devout followers of Hinduism.
Out of four lakh Sindhi-speaking Hindus in Ulhasnagar, around 7,000 (1.75%) have changed their faith in the last two years, according to a rough count. The growing number of “conversions” has scared the Sindhi-speaking Hindus to such an extent that they are contemplating a social boycott of the neo-Christians. Those who are taking to Christianity are not branding it as a conversion; instead, they say they have only changed their faith. Most have not even changed their Hindu names, which is turning out to be a major bone of contention with the Hindus.
“We are not against any religion but if they do not believe in Hinduism and are drawn closer to Christianity, they should adopt Christian names. We have called a meeting of the saints in our community in July. In that meeting, we will take a decision to boycott the converted Sindhis socially if they do not change their names,” said Sai Balram, general secretary of the All India Sindhi Samaj, one of the prominent organisations of the community.
Global recession is to blame, say Hindu leaders in the community. Ulhasnagar is largely a business township, full of small scale industries and traders.
Balram said, “The Christian missionaries helped the small businessmen rebuild their businesses. Since then, there has been a wave of conversion.”
But Ram Budhwani, a resident who follows Christianity, rubbishes the argument. “I started visiting the chapel to get peace of mind. I lost my wife in an accident two years ago. I became an alcoholic. I suffered heavy losses in my business and had to close down my shop. But since I am visiting the prayer house (known as Prarthana Ghar in Ulhasnagar) I am making progress in my business. I set up my shop again and am doing well. I have changed my faith, not the religion,” he said.
The Sindhi-speaking Hindus in Ulhasnagar feel people like Budhwani have betrayed the community. “Sindhis are known for their loyalty to Hinduism. We preferred to leave our places (in Pakistan) during the Partition but refused to convert into Islam. Now, we are confused how to face the situation,” a senior citizen from the community said.