The Christian population in Gurdaspur, a border district has doubled to nearly 4 lakh in the past five years, courtesy gullible and illiterate people, who need a fast cure for their health disorders.
Leave alone cities, churches have mushroomed even in the villages located near the international border. A new breed of young and English speaking pastors, who promise a cure for every disease, has taken over.
The Christian hotspots in this district include Dhariwal, Dera Baba Nanak, Fatehgarh Churian, Gurdaspur city, Batala and Sri Hargobindpur.
Conversions take place at the 120-odd churches that have come up in the area, most of them recently. “Prathana sabhas” (prayer meetings) are held every Sunday. Residents, particularly Dalit Sikhs and lower- caste Hindus, congregate in large numbers. Miracles of varied nature are performed at these gatherings. Once they step inside a church they are made to believe that Christianity is the best religion and cure for infertility, kidney ailments, heart diseases and cancer is offered.
English speaking pastors indulge in a bit of showmanship before putting an end to any type of disease by repeatedly invoking prayers. They play upon the superstitious nature of the uneducated, naive tribe of people making them think that Christianity is the solution to all their ills. The district has around 400 small and big time pastors.
Leaders recall that in Batala, not long ago, a middle aged woman lying on a stretcher and with drips hanging all around her was brought to the stage. The pastor asked what was ailing her. She replied that doctors had told her to get a kidney transplanted. The pastor asked the audience to pray and, lo and behold, the woman started walking on stage. Later, it surfaced that the pastor and the woman had faked the act just to impress people.
There have been instances in this district when patients have died after reportedly being cured. “In such cases, the family does not retaliate because by that time all the family members have been deeply ingrained in the teachings of Jesus,” said a leader.
Father William Sahota of Kahunwan said, “We do not force anybody to attend our prayer meetings. Everything in my church at Kahunwan is voluntary. As far as cure is concerned, our church treats scores of patients every Sunday. Our pastors engage in a dignified healing process. Jesus cures everybody.”
Pastor Srafin of Dhariwal said, “People are wrong when they say we force community members to get healed from the church. We call the process faith healing. Anybody who has faith in Jesus Christ will come to us for treatment. Jesus has the power to cure any disease.”
Old-timers say earlier, rice and wheat bags were given to the new converts. These have now been replaced with assurances of getting the UK and Canadian visas for the children of converts, jobs, free education and protection from evil spirits.
Roshan Joseph, a respected community leader, said the Christian population has increased so much that in certain Assembly segments–Dera Baba Nanak, Fatehgarh Churian and Sri Hargobindpur–politicians regularly appease the community in different ways to get votes. Three years ago, keeping in view his large following, Roshan himself was made a chief of the Gurdaspur District Congress Committee (GDCC). Christian leaders have now started asking political parties to give them tickets to contest elections. In the 2022 Assembly poll, Roshan was a contender from at least three seats.
If people are walking into the fold of Christianity in a big way, there are sceptics who claim that a massive fraud is being played out. They recall how pastors offered cures for Covid, but themselves fell prey to the virus.
A Gurdaspur-based SGPC member said the Sikh terminology was being openly used to confuse illiterate Sikhs. “Christians have even formed a religious body going by the name of ‘Shiromani Church Parbandhak Committee’. They are singing Christian hymns like we perform kirtan. This should stop. We will not allow Christians to infringe upon our territory,” he said.