Social Science Baha

To Christianity and Back: Religious Conversion and Reversion in Nepal

Swagat Raj Pandey and Sanjay Sharma

The transition of Nepal from a Hindu Kingdom to a secular republic is believed to have institutionalized the religious freedom in the country. Earlier, individuals, including animalists and naturalists, who did not opt for any specific religion were by default regarded as Hindus curtailing their individual choice of religion.  Of various religions practiced in Nepal, Christianity is one. Because of a lot of factors fostered primarily by evangelism, the number of Christian converts here is ever growing. While there were only 31,280 reported Christians in the 1991 census, this number increased to 101,976 in 2001, and in 2011 it reached 375,699. Furthermore, the existing literature on the issue of religious conversion suggests that individuals from poorer socio-economic backgrounds, Dalits and Janajatis are mainly changing their religious identity to Christianity. Due to the sense of egalitarianism, non-existence of caste/racial background, and various employment and economic opportunities, more and more number of people are finding becoming a Christian better than their previous identity. However, amidst the growing number of Christians, and among a number of claims and counterclaims being imposed on the very act of religious conversion, at the other end of the spectrum, some have been reverting back from Christianity to their original religion. While research inquires largely focus on the aspect of religious conversion alone, this paper primarily focuses on the other side of religious conversion, i.e. religious reversion. Focusing on the lives of ten reverts and based on the case studies and in-depth interviews with them, it aims to analyse the politics of conversion first, and then describe the phenomenon of reversion. Since the aspect of social and economic inequality is prominent among the Dalit community, most of whose members are still discriminated in the private, public and state affairs, the paper aims to analyse the lives of Dalit reverts and deal with the aspects of caste based discrimination in Nepal. On theoretical grounds, the paper takes social mobility as the key. Existing literature on religious conversion argue that Dalits convert to Christianity to move upwards in the socio-economic ladder and escape from the everyday discrimination that the identity within the Hindu system entails.  However, this paper aims to explore on why converted Dalits revert back to Hinduism and goes on to describe whether socio-economic advancement of Dalits is addressed through religious conversion alone and, does conversion from Hindu to Christianity liberate Dalits from social discrimination?