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IPS Situation Brief

India: Ghar Wapsi Program – An Overview
By Ms. Waqar-un-Nisa1

Abstract
[India has witnessed a noticeable increase in communal tensions post May, 2014 election. Among the rising
cases of violence against minorities, the issue of reconversions also came in to light. Reconversion, in India,
is not a new phenomenon but it has intensified in 2014-2015. This brief explores the emergence of the
phenomenon of mass reconversion under the flag of Ghar Wapsi (Home coming); how it contradicts the
Indian constitution and secularism, what motivated such occurrence at this point of time and how state and
society have reacted to the recurrence of this phenomenon.]

India claims to be a secular country and the world’s largest democracy. The Preamble of the Indian
constitution describes the country as a “Secular Democratic Republic”.2 Article 25 of the Indian
constitution sanctions all citizens of India the ‘freedom of conscience and the right to freely
profess, practice and propagate religion.’3
Notwithstanding the assertion of a secular state, the rights of religious minorities are often
threatened in India. The cases of communal clashes have regularly been witnessed.4 Since BJP has
taken the charge of the government in the year 2014, an increase in communal tensions has been
observed. Annual report of United States Commission on International Religious Freedom
(USCIRF) 20155 and Amnesty International Report 6published in July, 2015, also highlighted the
increase in communal violence post May 2014 elections.
BJP is largely influenced by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu nationalist group
which also supported BJP in the election held in 2014.7 Since then, many actions of the government
have caused discomfort among minorities i.e. change in curriculum8, beef ban, ban on cow

1

Assistant Research Coordinator, Institute of Policy Studies, Islamabad.
The Constitution of India, available at the website of Indian Ministry of Law.
3
Ibid.
4
B Rajeshwari, “Communal Riots in India: A Chronology,” IPCS Research papers, March 2004. Accessed 18
August,2015, http://www.nagarikmancha.org/images/1242-Documents-Communal_Riots_in_India.pdf
5
“India” in Annual Report 2015 by United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, (2015):149-154,
Available at: http://www.uscirf.gov/reports-briefs/annual-report/2015-annual-report
6
“India” in The State Of The World’s Human Rights by Amnesty International,(2015): 178-182, available at
www.amnesty.org
7
Anuja Bose, “Hindutva and the Politicization of Religious Identity in India,” Journal of Peace, Conflict and
Development 13(february 2009):16, http://www.bradford.ac.uk/ssis/peace-conflict-and-development/issue13/Issue-13-Article-8-formatted.pdf
2

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Andrew MacAskill and Rupam Jain Nair, “Fears grow in India about Hindu 'Modi-fication' of education,” Reuters,
New Dehli, Nov 21, 2014, accessed, August 20, 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/11/21/us-indiareligion-education-idUSKCN0J50BZ20141121

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slaughter9, celebrations of International Yoga Day at national level10 etc. are a few such examples.
Apart from that the Hindu Nationalists have gained more confidence to attack the minorities i.e.
attack on churches, harassment of Christian nuns, and the organization of ‘reconversions’ under
the Ghar Wapsi program etc, the annual report of United States Commission for International
Religious Freedom (USCIRF) - 2015 underlines: “Since the election, religious minority
communities have been subject to derogatory comments by politicians linked to the ruling
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and numerous violent attacks and forced [re-]conversions by Hindu
nationalist groups, such as Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Vishva Hindu Parishad
(VHP).”11

Inspired by Hindutva ideology, Gahr Wapsi (homecoming) aims at reconverting all Muslims and
Christians into Hindus as their ancestors, in their view, were originally Hindus converted to
Christianity and Islam by force, either by Christian missionaries or Muslim rulers in the
subcontinent. 12In this context, RSS stresses that the Muslims or Christians’ conversions to
Hinduism under Ghar Wapsi Program, should be termed as reconversions instead of conversions,
because it is the reconversion of already converted from Hinduism. An RSS leader, Dr. Manmohan
Vaidya explains, ‘The homecoming is a natural urge to reconnect to the original roots.’13 Dr.
Vaidya also refers to the history of reconversion that it was a decade long practice.14 Its history
even goes back to Arya Samaj of 1875 movement and Shudhi (Purification) movement of 1920s.
Arya Samaj introduced the idea of conversion of non-Hindus into Hinduism. Similarly, Shuddhi
movement of 1920s was based on the same ideology. This movement led to the deadly riots
between Hindus and Muslims in Punjab (mainly the sub-continent).15
In this backdrop it is not surprising that a number of events of mass conversions (reconversion) of
minorities were reported by media during the late 2014, after BJP took over the government in
Delhi. RSS and its associates groups (known as Sangh Parivar) and Vishwa Hindu Parshad (VHP),
were involved in the organization of these events which were held under the catchphrase of ‘Ghar
Wapsi’ program. Utar Pradesh was the Centre of the Ghar Wapsi program while a few cases were

9

Manil Suri, “A Ban on Beef in India is Not the Answer,” The New York Times, April 17, 2015, accessed, August19,
2015.
10
Antonia Blumberg, “Planned Celebrations For International Yoga Day Stir Controversy In India”, The Huffington
Post, June 10, 2015, accessed August 19, 2015 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/06/09/international-yogaday-india_n_7546556.html,
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/06/09/international-yoga-day-india_n_7546556.html
11
United States Commission for International Religious Freedom- Report 2015
12
Interview of Dr. Manmohan Vaidya available at the official website of RSS.
http://www.rss.org//Encyc/2014/12/30/-Homecoming-is-a-natural-urge-to-reconnect-to-roots--says-DrManmohan-Vaidya%EF%BB%BF.aspx
13
Ibid.
14
Ibid.
15
Jawaid Alam, Government and Politics in Colonial Bihar, 1921-1937, (New Delhi: Mittel Publications,2004): 172.

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reported in Gujrat and Kerala. Christian community remained the main target in this particular row
events between late 2014 and early 2015.16
While most of the events were organized in Uttar Pradesh (UP), Rajeshwar Singh, the head of
Dharam Jargan Manch (DJM), the associate of RSS was the Patron of Ghar Wapsi program in UP.
Singh had formed teams in different areas to work on this program.17 The administration of Ghar
Wapsi program in UP indicates the organizational support to Singh, who set the target of
reconversion of all Christians and Muslims by 2021.18
The intentions behind the program are very clear. At an event of conversion in August 2014, Singh
stated, “We will cleanse our Hindu society. We will not let the conspiracy of church or mosque
succeed in Bharat (India).”19 The RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s statement against the -world
renowned late social worker, Mother Teresa, which came after the controversy aroused over
reconversions is also indicative in this regard. He said, “People like Mother Teresa did good work
and service, but the aim was to convert the poor to Christianity.”20 This also indicates the
reactionary nature of the Ghar Wapsi program which largely targets the Christians. A grand Ghar
Wapsi program was announced in Aligharh on the eve of Christmas, though, it was canceled later,
due to a row of reactions. The frustration of Hindu nationalists against Christians is also visible in
the heinous attacks on Churches by Hindu extremists in recent months.21
BJP kept silence on this matter, allowing the Hindu nationalists getting ahead with the agenda.
The first major case highlighted in media was the event of reconversion in Agra. It was reported
in December, when the winter session (November 24 –December 23) of the Indian Parliament was
going on. A strong reaction came from the opposition parties and proceedings were disrupted
several times due to the opposition’s protest over the issue of conversion. The passive attitude of
government was strongly condemned. 22 Minorities’ representative groups and forums also
condemned it strongly urging the government to take action against the culprits. As the conversion
row happened just before the visit of US. President, Barack Obama to India in January, he also

16

A list of events is attached in annexure.
“RSS quietly dumps 'Ghar Wapsi', The Economic Times, Jan 2, 2015.
18
“Hindu outfit plans to ‘finish’ Islam, Christianity by 2021,” The Indian Express, December 19, 2014, accessed July
1, 2015, http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/hindu-outfit-plans-to-finish-islam-christianity-by2021/#sthash.ivwpgnWS.dpuf .
19
Rupam Jain Nair and Frank Jack Daniel, “Love Jihad' and religious conversion polarize in Modi's India,” Reuters,
Sep 4, 2014, accessed, July 1, 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/09/04/us-india-religion-modi-insightidUSKBN0GZ2NH20140904
20
“RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat targets Mother Teresa, says her social work was for conversion,” First Post, Feb 24,
2015, accessed, June 4, 2015, http://www.firstpost.com/india/rss-chief-mohan-bhagwat-targets-mother-teresasays-her-social-work-was-for-conversion-2117707.html
21
United States Commission for International Religious Freedom- Report 2015, 150
22
Raghvendra Rao and Rakesh Sinha, “Under Opposition Fire, Centre counters: Bring anti-conversion law,” Indian
Express, Dec 12, 2014, accessed, Jan 10, 2015, http://indianexpress.com/article/india/politics/cornered-govtcounters-bring-anti-conversion-law/2/.
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voiced his concern over religious freedom twice, during23 and after24 his visit. This added to the
pressure on BJP by the opposition and minorities, though civil society and the NGOs did not react
as openly as is expected, generally, from such groups in secular democracies. It may be pointed
out here that on the alleged basis of fueling religious unrest or damaging the image of secularism
in the state, a select NGOs like Sabrang trust, Citizens for Justice and peace, INSAF, Peoples
Watch etc, have also recently come under pressure from the Indian authorities.25
The approach of government on the issue of conversions changed following the criticism. This
was the move to regain the support of minorities and also to save the image of secularism which
has been impaired due to the unobstructed activities of Hindu nationalists since the election of the
BJP government. After an initial defense by some members of the ruling party to justify RSS’s
stance on conversions, Modi conveyed his concern and urged to stop the conversions, through a
meeting held between the leadership of RSS and BJP.26 When the controversy heightened, the
criticism from abroad may have also pushed him to appease the world by preaching religious
harmony. While attending ceremony of canonization of two Christian Saints, he said in his speech,
“My government will ensure that there is complete freedom of faith and that everyone has the undeniable
right to retain or adopt the religion of his or her choice without coercion or undue influence.” 27

RSS had continued to justify its stance on religious conversion until Modi intervened. RSS chief
Mohan Bhagwat justified it in these words: "When the thief is being caught and my property has
been recovered, when I am taking back my own property, what is new in it?" He further said, "If
you don't like it (re-conversion to Hinduism), then bring a law against it. You don't want to bring
it. If you don't want to change into a Hindu, then you should not convert Hindus too. We are firm
in our position."28 However, after Modi’s intervention, he was assured of cooperation by the RSS
leadership. RSS, then suspended Rajeshwar Singh, the coordinator of Ghar Wapsi program in
Uttar Pradesh.29 This suspension ended the series of events under Ghar Wapsi program. The
suspension of Singh on Modi’s intervention was seen as an indication that government’s support
was behind the program and when it was withdrawn, the program seemed to be weakened, at least
for the time being. Earlier, a deliberate silence was being kept by the BJP led government. It was
23

Frank Jack Daniel and Roberta Rampton, “In parting shot, Obama prods India on religious freedom,” Reuters, Jan
27, 2015, accessed, April 19, 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/01/27/us-india-obamaidUSKBN0L00FD20150127.
24
Annie Gown, “Obama’s Remarks on Religious intolerance in India provoke outrage,” Washington Post, February
06, 2015, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2015/02/06/obamas-remarks-on-religiousintolerance-in-india-provoke-outrage/
25
Cedric Prakash, “Attack on Civil Society Activism” in John Dayal and Shabnam Hashmi eds., 365 Days Democracy
and Secularism under the Modi Regime, report (ANHAD, 2015), 65. Accessed, July15, 2015.
26

“Narendra Modi government tells RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat to keep a check on conversion hype,” The Economic
Times, December 27, 2014, http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2014-12-27/news/57441254_1_rss-hqrss-chief-mohan-bhagwat-rss-sarsanghchalak
27

.

India Real Time, Narendra Modi’s Speech on Minority in Full Speech, Wall Street Journal, Feb 18, 2015,
http://blogs.wsj.com/indiarealtime/2015/02/18/narendra-modis-speech-on-minority-religions-in-full/.
28
“If you don't like conversion, bring law against it: Bhagwat, Kolkata,” Deccan Herald, Dec 20, 2014, accessed,
June 4, 2015, http://www.deccanherald.com/content/448813/if-you-dont-like-conversion.html.
29
The Economic Times, “RSS quietly dumps 'Ghar Wapsi' pointsman”

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broken only when the damage was inflicted on the image and policies of the government. When
the RSS avoided the publicity of Ghar Wapsi program, apparently settling the matter over
reconversions with BJP to minimize the controversy, a VHP leadership declared that Ghar Wapsi
programme will continue till the fifteen crore people who have left the Hindutva fold post
Independence, are reconverted to Hinduism.”
As a permanent solution to the ‘problem’, BJP also suggested the implementation of Anticonversion law in all states and center. In Parliament, BJP’s Minister of Parliamentary affairs
started the debate by proposing the adoption of anti- conversion law at national level.30 While the
opposition rejected the idea, a debate was generated in the media. Ironically, RSS also supported
the ban on conversions.
Notably anti-Conversion laws have already been adopted in six Indian States.31 These laws are
termed as Freedom of Religion Acts prohibiting conversions by force, fraud and inducement.
According to these laws, people have to inform the district government about their intentions to
convert. In some states, Gujrat, Chhattisgarh and Himachal Pradesh, permission from the state is
necessary before conducting the conversion. Yet in Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, RSS Associates
organized reconversions despite the anti-conversion laws in place. On the other hand, many cases
have been filed against Christian Missionaries alleging forced conversions in BJP led states. No
action, however, has been taken in these states, against those converting people belonging to
religious minorities into Hinduism.32
Anti-conversion laws are against the spirit of the Article 25 of Indian constitution which allows
individuals to ‘profess and propagate’ religion. Understandably than, USCIRF’s annual report 2015 places India in the second tier 33 countries. One of the reason behind this placement is the
implementation of anti–conversion laws in six states.34 Apparently these laws are against forced
conversions but there is a bias in its implementation. The key terms of these laws e.g. force and
inducement are vaguely defined which could lead to the exploitation.35 It is also significant that
the people converting to Islam and Christianity and Buddhism, etc. are mostly Dalit (low caste
Hindus also called untouchables) who face highly discriminatory treatment within the fold of
Hinduism.38 Anti-conversion laws are mostly implemented in the states where tribals and Dalit
30

Rao & Sinha, “Under Opposition Fire, Centre counters: Bring anti-conversion law.
See detail in Annexure II.
32
Brinda Karat, “Really, RSS? An Anti-Conversion Law?” NDTV, December 22, 2014, accessed, April 19,2015,
http://www.ndtv.com/opinion/really-rss-an-anti-conversion-law-716609
33
USCIRF divides the countries to be monitored in the categories of Tier one and Tier Two. In Tier one, countries of
particular concern (CPC) in context of violation of religious freedom, are included while Tier Two includes the
countries with serious religious intolerance but not fully meeting the criteria of CPC.
34
United States Commission for International Religious Freedom- Report 2015, 149
35
Angela Wu Howard, “Leveraging legal protection for religious Liberty,” in Allen D. Hertzke ed., The Future of
Religious Freedom: Global Challenges, , (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 71-72.
38
In the wake of Dalit’s’ conversion from Hinduism to other religions, the role of Dr. Ambedkar, Indian Scholar,
political leader and the contributor in drafting of Indian Constitution, is very prominent. Being a Dalit himself, he
instigated the Dalit community to come out of Hindu fold to attain equal human, social, political and political
rights. He embraced Buddhism along with his 1 to 5 lac followers in 1956. Here is an excerpt from one of his
speech, “Why do you remain in a religion which does not treat you as human beings? Why do you remain in a
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community is in large number.39 So, the purpose is to make the process of leaving Hinduism
complicated for weak and poor classes.
It is not difficult to realize that the aim of anti-conversion laws and the Ghar Wapsi program are
the same i.e. to prevent the religious demographic changes in Hindu society. The fear of increase
in the population of religious minorities has pushed a BJP’s MP to state that Hindus should have
more Children to protect Hinduism in India.41 A recent study has projected India to be the country
with largest Muslim population in 2050 with an increase from 14 percent to 18 percent of total
population in the country.42 Reacting to this survey, again, a VHP leader also advised Hindus that,
“there are only two ways to remove the demographic imbalance; either the Hindus should increase
their population or there should be a uniform civil code on it.”43
Ghar Wapsi is not an individual plan; it is the part of a larger Hindutva strategy, which is there to
Hinduise the Indian society, compelling minorities to follow majority’s rules, either it is through
change in curriculum, beef ban, attacks on religious minorities, relating Surya Namaskar with yoga
or it is the matter of reconversions. While RSS may not again go for mass reconversion but the
strategy of reconversion at smaller level which has been continued since decades is not going to
be stopped.44 RSS may now be careful as it does not want to harm the Party which remains its
hope for furthering its agenda.45 Moreover, as such practices damage the image of so called secular
India, Modi would also want to mend it.
Ghar Wwapsi seemed to be weakened but the Hindutva ideologists did not want it to vanish. Since
January, 2015, no incident of reconversion was highlighted by the media, but in July 2015, another
incident occurred in Kerala which was reported in media.46 In July 2015 VHP provided the figures
of Ghar Wapsi program (June 2014- July 2015) in an annual report: it was announced that 33,975

religion which prohibits you from entering temples? Why do you remain in a religion which prohibits you from
securing drinking water from the public well? Why do you remain in a religion which comes in your way for getting
a job? Why do you remain in a religion which insults you at every step?” the speech is available at :
http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00ambedkar/txt_ambedkar_salvation.html
In this background, the history of India saw mass conversions of Dalits into Buddhism, Islam and Christianity.
39
Saurav Datta, “India's mass conversion problem,” Al Jazeera, Jan 4, 2015, accessed, May 20, 2015,
http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2015/01/india-mass-conversion-problem-20151274531627294.html
41
“India MP Sakshi Maharaj: Hindus must have more babies,” BBC News, January 7, 2015, accessed Sep 18, 2015,
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-30706431 .
42
Demographic Study, Pew Research Centre, April 2, 2015,accessed on Sep 18,2015,
http://www.pewforum.org/2015/04/02/religious-projections-2010-2050/
43
“VHP demands uniform law to 'rectify' demographic 'imbalance,” Deccan Herald, April 4, 2015, accessed, Sep
19,2015, http://www.deccanherald.com/content/469716/vhp-demands-uniform-law-rectify.html
44
The Economic Times, “RSS quietly dumps 'Ghar Wapsi”
45
Manjari Katju, “The Politics of Ghar Wapsi,” Economic and Political Weekly, January, 2015.
46

'Ghar Wapsi' in Kerala: 39 Christians re-converted to Hinduism, Oneindia, July 20, 2015, accessed, September 19,
2015,
http://www.oneindia.com/india/ghar-wapsi-in-kerala-39-christians-re-converted-to-hinduism-1811725.html .

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people were reconverted to Hinduism and 48,651 people were abstained from conversion from
Hinduism. 47
Since reconversion is not a new phenomenon, Hindutva forces will keep it alive. As long as the
Hindutva forces are strengthened, the threat to the minority religion and the fear of reconversions
would prevail in India.

47

Pratul Sharma, “VHP Claims Huge Success in 'Ghar Wapsi' Campaign,” The New Indian Express, July 5, 2015,
accessed, September 19, 2015, http://www.newindianexpress.com/thesundaystandard/VHP-Claims-Huge-Successin-Ghar-Wapsi-Campaign/2015/07/05/article2902434.ece.

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Annexure 1

Cases of Conversions 2014-2015
Date

August,
2014

August,
2014
October,
2014
October,
2014
December
8, 2014
20th
December
2014
21st
December,
2014
December
25, 2014

Number
of People
Victims/
targets
A
Christian
family
(number
not
known)
72

Religious
Minority

Place of
Conversion

Organizers

Christian

Hasayan,
Uttar Pradesh

Rashtriya
Swayamsevak
Sangh (RSS

Christians

RSS

23

Christians

Asroi (Uttar
Pradesh)
Uttar Pradesh

310

Christians

350

Muslims

100

Christian
tribals

30

Christians

Alappuzha
(Kerala)

VHP

59

Christians

Kerala

VHP

Christians

Amritsar,
Punjab
Kharmadanga,
West Bengal
Kerala:

RSS’s
affiliate
VHP

December 128
30, 2014
January 28, 150
2015
19,
July 39
2015

Christians
Christians

Jaunpur of
Uttar Pradesh
Agra (Uttar Associate
pradesh
groups of
RSS
Valsad, Gujrat VHP

Remarks

These victims were
re-reconverted to
Islam later.

VHP

Following Programs were announced but were canceled later on.

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December
25, 2014

5,000

Jan 1, 2015 3000

Christians:
4,000
Muslims:
1,000

Alighar (Uttar RSS
Pradesh)

Muslims

Ayodhya,
Gujrat

VHP

Annexure 11
Anti-Conversion laws
States
Orissa
Madhya Pradesh
Chhattisgarh
Arunachal Pradesh
Himachal Pradesh
Gujrat

Year of Enactment
1967
1968
1968
1978
2006
2003

The event (Grand
Ghar Wapsi) was
announced prior to
Christmas but was
canceled due to
nationwide
opposition.
The program was
announced by VHP
in Jan, 2015 to be
organized in Feb
2015, but could not
be materialized in
after much criticism.