The Conversion Agenda

"Freedom to convert" is counterproductive as a generalized doctrine. It fails to come to terms with the complex interrelationships between self and society that make the concept of individual choice meaningful. Hence, religious conversion undermines, and in extremes would dissolve, that individual autonomy and human freedom.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Conversion ban-the national necessity

Author: Swami Asangananda Bharati
Publication: Organiser
Date: January 9, 2005

The conversion game is being played by Christian missionaries and by Muslim fundamentalists by resorting to conversion only of Hindus in India. I have never seen any conversions of Christians to Islam or Muslims to Christians being reported. Why? The oft-quoted reason given by the protagonists of conversions is some of the ills affecting the Vedic Hindu society, like caste system, poverty, untouchability, etc. They have been carrying on with this kind of propaganda for centuries and deluding the poor illiterate masses in the name of uplifting them. Let me ask them—who are these Indian Christians and Muslims? Have they come from Rome, Italy, Europe, England, America or from Arab countries? They are Hindus only, whose forefathers were converted by the Muslim and foreign rulers of this unfortunate land, not out of love for their faith, but by force and allurements. I prefer to call them Muslim-Hindus, Christian-Hindus, etc. We can ask a question from these people as to why the Christians missionaries desist from converting the Muslims who are worse off as far as their living conditions are concerned. Because they know that their heads would be chopped of if they dared to do so. Why don't the Muslims go out to convert the Christians to Islam if their religion is so good? Hinduism is a tolerant Dharma and not a fundamentalist doctrine or dogma; as such, they can play their nefarious game. But now the Hindus are not the same lot as they were 500 years ago. They are being forced to become intolerant of such activities of the conversionists to protect their flock.

I would like to dispel the ignorance of the protagonists of conversion of the Vedic Hindus on some of the social ills in the Vedic Hindu society and cited as reasons for conversion. They say that Hinduism lost to Buddhism in the olden days due to some of these ills. It is absolutely wrong. The assertion that Buddhism took hold in India because of the caste system is historically not correct. Rather, it was widespread bloodshed due to wars by Emperor Ashoka and his realisation of its futility that he came under the sway of ahimsa of Buddhism and adopted it. Under his tutelage, Buddhism spread in ancient India and in the Far East. It was not because of the caste system. Moreover, Buddhism is an offshoot of Vedism only. It is not a foreign religion for India.

One of the most misunderstood and widely derided and exploited social system of the Vedic Hindus is the caste system. Unfortunately, even most of the learned Vedic Hindus have no idea of this system and its genesis. In the Vedic scriptures there is no mention of castes at all. Caste means a guild of occupations and that is what it is. The Vedas laid down varna system by dividing the human society into four classes, not castes. The varnas are classes which exist in every civilised society in some form or the other. There is no mention of higher varnas or inferior varnas. All have their equally important place in the scheme of things of the society. Every organisation has that kind of a classification of their human resources of a similar type even today—the hierarchy of the top management, middle management, supervisory class and the working class.

One of the most misunderstood and mispublicised is the Shudra varna. Shudra did not mean 'untouchable' which the protagonists of conversion have made out to be. Shudra varna stood for the general workforce to assist the other varnas to carry out their duties for the society. Untouchability is a function of hygiene and related to economic conditions and lifestyles. I have seen even poor Brahmins being treated worse than the so-called untouchables for reasons of their poverty and lifestyles. It exists stealthily in the materially advanced countries also for the same reasons. Unfortunately, even after 50 years of Independence of the country, poverty and illiteracy of the masses have not been ameliorated by the successive governments that have come to power.

People do not know that even after conversion to Christianity or Islam, the fate of those converted did not change by and large, socially. They still carried the caste band with them in their social dealings.

The caste system as it exists and is understood today is of recent origin, perhaps not more than 400 or 500 years old. The Muslim invaders and the British colonists tried to create divisions in the Hindu society to suit their vested interests. In the Vedic system it was work classification that was called jati pratha. Jatis were the occupations, professions of the people, mainly of the Shudra varna. For example, there are jatis like chamar—the leather workers, telis—the oil extractors, luhars—iron workers, barharis—the carpenters, sunar—the goldsmiths, and so on. Amongst the other varnas also there was some classification according to the kind of duties they performed in their broad spheres.

Under the influence of the economic system and the need for efficiency in their duties, people of the same or similar occupations, naturally, became more cohesive professionally and socially. It was an evolutionary process due to economic factors and not thrust on the society by the scriptures or the Brahminic order as is propagated by the conversionists and casteist politicians of today. The illiteracy and poverty of the people have been exploited by the church and Islamic fundamentalists for political reasons. Unfortunately, even many Vedic Hindus, who are ignorant of the reality, are carried away by the propaganda of the missionaries and the politicians these days. People do not know that even after conversion to Christianity or Islam, the fate of those converted did not change by and large, socially. They still carried the caste band with them in their social dealings. The recent demand by the Christian missionaries and Muslim fundamentalist organisations for reservations in jobs and schools, etc. for those converted, as for the Scheduled Castes and Tribes of the Hindus, is a clear proof of the status of converts and the objectives of the conversionists.

Yes, the Indian Constitution does not bar conversion on grounds of freedom of faith. Unfortunately, the framers of the Constitution did not have the political vision of the subsequent developments which have resulted because of these provisions. Freedom of faith can be exercised by those who understand the faith. How can this be justified by conversions being carried out en masse by villages or communities as a whole through allurements of money, education, jobs, etc.? How many educated, well-informed people get converted? Hardly any. If Christianity or Islam was so magnanimous and attractive a faith, multitudes of Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas who are also poor would have thronged at the doors of the churches and Maulvis for conversions. This did not happen. Moreover, why is there a hue and cry by the missionaries when Christians are getting reconverted to Hinduism?

So, the message is clear. Conversions are resorted to for political reasons and not for faith. There is, therefore, absolute justification for imposing a ban on free conversions, particularly by foreign missionaries and fundamentalist Muslims. Unfortunately, some of the political parties espousing the cause of the minorities and even the so-called Vedic Hindu leaders for their own self-aggrandisement seem to be welcoming the conversions of Vedic Hindus. Since democracy is a game of numbers and the masses at present are not enlightened enough about what it actually means, people are carried away by false propaganda on caste, religion, language and what not, by the selfish petty politicians exploiting the minorities as their vote-bank. This has encouraged the Christian missionaries and Muslim fundamentalists to lure the poor Hindus to convert. This is the national viewpoint.

Vedic Hindus are perfectly within their right to protect their people from such deceptive activities of the activists of other religions. The ban imposed by the Jayalalithaa government on conversions is the right step in cleaning the dirt in Indian politics. All states should ban conversion. I would suggest that the Government of India should bring some amendments in the Constitution by laying down clear conditions and procedures for intended conversion by an individual or group. If the government does not do something to rectify this situation, then it will definitely encourage the unlawful halt to it offered by hard-core co-religionists. Lawlessness in India has taken place whenever the governments have failed the people to satisfy their legitimate feelings.

[size=9](The writer, formally known as Dr Om Sharma, is a disciple of Swami Rama of the Himalayas and director of Himalayan International Institute of Yoga Science and Philosophy and can be contacted at Nirmal Cave, F-25, Hauz Khas Enclave, New Delhi-110 016.) [/size]


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