Holding fierce pride in their identity, Sikhs have for decades been seen as “off-limits” by the missionary machine but not anymore. In a alarming trend, evangelism has begun to tread on the Sikh faith as well.
Every aspect of Punjabi society is being overwhelmed with this new wave of assertive Christianity. Besides nationwide programs in Hindi, Punjabi television channels have been deluged by Christian programs even though the Christian population of Punjab is less than 1%. Taking aim at Sikh youth, animated films and children’s books on Christianity are freely distributed by missionaries.
Because of the strong adherence to tradition by Sikhs, missionaries have attempted to repackage Christianity. Jesus is called “Satguru”, church is referred to as “Satsang” and choir singing is called “Kirtan”. Choir boys in Punjabi churches wear turbans to attempt to minimize the variation between Sikhism and Christianity. However, despite these attempts to disguise Christianity as a version of Sikhism, missionaries still cannot hide their intent: to destroy the Sikh faith.
While there have been some cases of genuine conversions, economically disadvantaged and illiterate Sikhs often complain that missionaries are using extortive practices such as bribing them with material possessions to change their religion. A young boy whose friends had converted to Christianity explained, “When I asked the boys as to why they have converted to Christianity, they said they had been given cash and free education. In our village alone, 5 to 6 people have converted and, of course, their generations to come would also be Christians.”
Gurbachan Singh Bachan, former Secretary of the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee and a proud Sikh, says “People who are converting from Hinduism and Sikhism to Christianity are those who have lost understanding of their own religion… Khalsa [Sikh] institutions and the Government need to educate the people about the values of a religion, and tell them that all religions are equal and no religion teaches us to fight with each other.”
Such provocative evangelism in Punjab does not always go unnoticed by the local community. The Open Door Church run by Pastor Harbhajan Singh, a landlord who converted to Christianity from Sikhism, has aggressively converted over 2,800 members of the Khojewala village community. In February of 2004, Singh made derogatory remarks against several Sikh gurus including Guru Granth Sahib. This led to several protests by Sikh youths in front Singh’s church in the. The conflict was ultimately resolved by police intervention and an unconditional apology by Harbhajan Singh. Meanwhile, Christian media painted this incident as an example of “Christian persecution.”
SikhGiving’s experience with Christian missionaries in Punjab
SikhGiving, a small sikh charitable organization was helping a Sikh Patient Jaswinder Singh and his family to cope with their medical costs of approx. $500 a month. “At first we didn’t take up the case as we could not afford to support the case for a long period of 3 years”, said Vicky Singh, a volunteer of the California based non profit organization.
The family went to the point where Jaswinder’s dad, Sohan Singh had to sell his cycle in order to cover a day’s medicine cost. Somehow this news spread out in the public that a Sikh Organization is helping Sohan Singh’s family. After that, their local Christian group came with an offer to Sohan Singh’s family that they can cover his child’s entire medical expenses for 2 to 3 years. They were asked to visit the church to receive the money. Sohan Singh went to the Church feeling that he will be given the money as goodwill by the church.
When he went inside, he was taken by the church officials to attend a special ceremony which was to adopt Christianity as his religion. Sohan Singh and his family are from deeply religious Sikh background. He was given instructions by them that if they want to get the financial support then he has to follow the ceremony which indirectly was to leave Sikhism and adopt their religion. Sohan Singh left the church immediately after he found that in their instructions he was told to eat Parshad (religious offering) of Christ (which was meat).
With the generous help of many donors, we are glad that we took up the case of Jaswinder Singh for the next 3 years, providing them financial, physical and emotional help.
“I never thought that this would be happening to someone in Punjab who is in need of help. Instead of helping a needy person, they are making him to do something which he and his family doesn’t want to do. It was a direct hit at us showing that Sikhs in Punjab can’t help each other and others are lending hand to help them but with strings attached”, said Satnam Singh, the director of SikhGiving.
A recent study showed that at least 800,000 are converted to Christianity every year throughout India. In the coming years, this number can significantly increase with attacks on the Sikh faith.