Religious conversions hits Rohingya camp in Bengaluru

At a camp in Byatarayanapura in Bengaluru North, about 10 families have converted to Christianity.
James Tahiyat, a missionary, speaks to a newly-converted Rohingya woman| Express
James Tahiyat, a missionary, speaks to a newly-converted Rohingya woman| Express

BENGALURU: While religious conversions in Karnataka hit national headlines since late last year prompting the state government to bring in a new legislation following claims by Hindu organisations that a heavy influx of Christian missionaries was targeting poor Hindus, Rohingya Muslims are now being taken into the ‘Protestant’ Christian fold. At a camp in Byatarayanapura in Bengaluru North, about 10 families have converted to Christianity.

James Tahiyat, a young missionary in his mid-20s who studied in Don Bosco Delhi, claimed that no one was being “forced” and only the “word of God” was being preached. James’s father Farook’s family was the first in the Rohingya camp here to embrace Christianity a few years ago.

It is said some Christian missionaries working on health and nutrition had come across this place. James, previously a Muslim, was enrolled in a Chr­istian school for studies and he later embraced Christianity. He completed his masters in religious studies. The family from Myanmar that runs a scrap business is now preaching their new religion to fellow Rohingyas who still follow Islam.

‘1,500 Rohingyas living in Delhi, Haryana and Hyderabad have converted’

Conversion due to fear?
To a question on whether the Rohingyas are leaving Islam fearing backlash from Hindutva outfits, he said, the controversy is new, but many converted five to six years ago itself. People are choosing Christianity by understanding the religion and no one is coming due to fear of any allurement or fear, claimed the young missionary.

“Most of them got converted between 2013 to 2016. About 1,500 Rohingyas living in Delhi, Haryana and Hyderabad have converted to Christianity,” James said. The missionary also took this reporter inside a camp and showed a few families that have converted to Chirstianity. He also pulled out a bag filled with Old and New Testament copies of Bibles in English as well as Urdu. Every Sunday, people who have moved into the new faith assemble at one house where prayers are held. Many here cannot read or write and can only speak and for them religion is being taught in the Rohingya language.

Allegations of allurement
Karimullah, who stays some 200 meters away from the camp where James and his father live, said in his camp about 15 families are living and attempts are being made to convert his children too but he did not yield. “Some missionaries asked me to hand over my elder son to them saying they will take care of him and give him education. But I was reluctant. I told them he is going to a government school here and during the later part of the day he helps him in his scrap business.” said Kariumullah, a Rohingya Muslim.

He alleged that since he did not yield to pressure from missioneries, he and members from his camp were being targeted and a false theft case was filed against him. All India Shramik Swaraj Kendra, the organisation which is working on migrants and refugees in the state has enumerated 130 families scattered in three different places in Bengaluru namely Hegde Nagar, Byatarayanapura-Dasarahalli and Bellahalli and all have been provided with UN refugee cards.

“The card is issued by the UN office in Delhi and it has to be renewed yearly. The Rohingyas only have ‘right to life’ which also covers health and education. The refugees are constantly monitored. With regard to the anti-conversion bill passed by the Karnataka government, if a complaint is registered against any new conversion, the law will be applicable to it as it is a crime. If Rohingyas are accused of religious conversion, then they will be sent to a detention centre.

Since they escaped killings in their country Myanmar, they can be deported once the situation eases,” said R Kaleemullah, Vice President, All India Shramik Swaraj Kendra. Former Advocate General, Ashok Haranahalli said that the law of the land is for everyone irrespective of their citizenship. Even migrants and others have to abide by the rules. To a question whether the same applies on Rohingyas in matters of religious conversion, especially after the government passing anti-conversion law, he said it does apply.

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