New York Times' Misleading Claims about Hinduism

Assertion: In an article in the New York Times’ blogs on India, writer Raksha Kumar makes the following claims:

  • Mr. Kujur and his family converted to Hinduism seven years ago. As a member of the Oraon tribe, his grandfather had converted into Christianity. But in 2006, the late Bharatiya Janata Party leader Dilip Singh Judeo arrived in Ara with the sole agenda of converting 300 Christian families to Hinduism.
  • Despite several years of close coexistence, the tribals had maintained their identity separate from the Hindus. The tribals were mostly hunter-gatherers, worshipped their ancestors and nature, ate simple food and celebrated festivals of their own.


Both assertions are closely linked. Indeed, one flows from the other. Raksha Kumar’s assertion that tribals and Hindus are separate is false and not borne out of historical, cultural, religious, and other evidence.

We shall examine the second assertion first.

India’s civilizational history is a few thousand years old and throughout this period, there existed what are today known as tribals. In fact, the word “tribal” itself was a construct that emerged during the British colonial rule in India. There is no corresponding term for “tribal” in the native annals. The term “atavika” is what used to be applied to the people we call as tribals today. In fact, Kautilya’s Arthashastra has elaborate sections dedicated to the policies the ruler had to adopt with respect to these so-called tribals.

Further, while these people dwelt in the forest, their beliefs, faith, and Gods were unambiguously Hindu. Indeed, Raksha Kumar does not seem to understand the contradiction she makes when she asserts these tribals “worship their ancestors, and nature.” Worshipping one’s ancestors and nature form one of the foundational tenets of Hinduism. Indeed, the supreme God of the same Oraon tribe about which Raksha Kumar writes, named Dharmesh or Bhagwan, undeniably Hindu names. Perhaps the best known example of the non-separateness of tribals and Hindus is the God Jagannath at Puri, Orissa. The main idol in the sanctum sanctorum of the Puri temple is a tribal God. Till today, the tribal priest has the first right of worship over this God followed by the traditional Brahmin priest. One can of course, cite hundreds of such examples.

Thus, merely because the tribals have a separate identity do not make them non-Hindus.

And now, the first assertion where Raksha Kumar seeks to equate Christian/missionary conversions of tribals with the reconversion efforts of the BJP and other Hindu organizations. In very simple terms, both the aim and consequence of Christian conversion efforts is to erase the tribal-Hindu identity, heritage, way of life, customs, rituals, and traditions of these tribals and make them conform to a faith that is hostile to Hinduism. As plenty of evidence shows, wherever such efforts succeeded, it led to societal friction within the same tribe. This friction also resulted in violence, the most recent example of which is Kandhamal, Orissa.

Reconversion thus seeks to bring back these tribals into their original fold, which had sustained them for hundreds of generation without conflict. Second, the NYT piece also fails to mention that in numerous cases, prominent leaders hailing from within the tribal communities themselves have actively campaigned for such reconversion after they understood the dangers mass conversions posed for their communities. Such leaders include former Chief Ministers like Arjun Munda, Babulal Marandi, and Jual Oram (from the Oraon tribe).


From the facts mentioned so far, it is clear that Raksha Kumar’s piece, which talks about the politics of conversion, is built on erroneous understanding as well as ignorance. First, it displays an incorrect understanding of the basic tenets of Hinduism and Christianity. And second, the equation that predatory conversion is the same as reconversion is wholly misleading.

IndiaFacts verdict: False. 

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    October 11, 2013

    Ramesh Chengappa

    This is a classic example of distorting what Hindus think about themselves by constructing a dialog around a term that suits the anti Hindu agenda. In this case its the word “Tribal”. I wouldnt have known this technique of killing a culture by placing such cancer cells in the target cultures language system, until I read some of Rajiv Malhotras work like “Breaking India”. The books Provocation#6 6. CONTROLLING THE DISCOURSE ON INDIA:

    The book shows how the discourse on India at various levels is being increasingly controlled by the institutions in the West which in turn serve its geo-political ambitions. So, why has India failed to create its own institutions that are the equivalent of the Ford Foundation, Fulbright Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, etc.? Why are there no Indian university based International Relations programs with deep-rooted links to the External Affairs Ministry, RAW, and various cultural, historical and ideological think tanks? Why are the most prestigious journals, university degrees and conferences on India Studies, in sharp contrast to the way China Studies worldwide is under the control of Chinese dominated discourse, based in the West and mostly under the control of western institutions? ”

      January 25, 2014


      I fully agree. I cant understand how these jokers try not to understand the Hindu religion in first place but start blaming the religion – by their limited and miniscul knowledge in country or religion. Shame on them.

    October 11, 2013

    Dr. Anuk

    The communist intellectuals with the financial help from Neo-capitalists trying to distort Hinduism to destabilize India. Both of them do not want India to adhere to its ancient Indian heritage and culture. Let them cry & shout, it will only help to unite & strengthen Hindus.

    October 7, 2013


    It’s not Re-conversion either.

    It’s de-conversion.

    October 4, 2013

    Sudhir (@sudhirakondi)

    I get anguished looking at the way our own folks sell lies when they mingle with foreign researchers who are in pursuit of proving that their religion is supreme.

    October 4, 2013

    Amarnah Wanchoo

    Juda sold Christ for 30 pieces of silver. Raksha Kumar is now selling the Hindu Religion for the crumbs thrown to her by the NYT.

    October 4, 2013


    Actually, “mainstream hindus” (whatever that means) seems to worship the tribal deities more than the other way around:

    Lord Naramsimha of Ahobilam and Lord Mallikarjuna of Srisailam both have tribal connections. Bhagyanagar is dotted with hundreds of small and big temples devoted to desiya deities (as in, not marga).