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.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Discriminated Dalits should sue church

By Sandhya Jain

Conversions undermine the national interest in the most unimaginable ways, and since the British consciously mooted conversions to Christianity to perpetuate their rule by alienating converts from native society and civilization, discerning Indians would do well to follow the current Supreme Court hearing on a petition demanding reservation benefits to Dalit Christians.

The Constitution provided reservations to former untouchables to enable them to overcome historic social disadvantages which kept them economically and educationally backward. The reservations were exclusive to adherents of native Indian dharmas because India’s ruling classes had for several centuries successively come from the ranks of invading Islamic and Christian forces, and their coercive tactics had caused conversions from native religious traditions. Native converts did not perceive themselves as neglected or discriminated against in the pre-Independence period, while many native communities suffered degradation as a result of the foreign invasions, and this led to their untouchable status.

It is equally pertinent that Christianity sought converts on the plea that it did not discriminate between believers, and hence low caste believers would loose the social stigma of their original caste (a claim later picked up by Islam). This was never true historically and the dominant White Western Christianity, particularly protestant Christianity, practiced the most degrading forms of discrimination on grounds of race, the pinnacle of which was reached in the slave trade, which rested on the premise that other races were sub-human.

In a powerful attack upon Christian racism, Mark L. Perry (The Last War: Racism, Spirituality, and the Future of Civilization, George Ronald, Oxford) highlights the fact that protestant racism created the phenomenon of the segregation of churches, so that slaves could not become free by converting to Christianity. We need not go into the atrocities perpetuated upon African slaves, but we can easily discern why the Church in India created separate pews and even cremation grounds for Dalit Christians in India, and why their social and economic conditions did not improve after they abandoned their native faith and culture for an alien religion.

The Church openly maintains separate pews and wine and wafers for Dalit converts, and even separate graveyards, a class action suit on grounds of caste discrimination—and worse, perpetuation of caste inequalities by its religious leadership—should be moved without delay.

Any decision of the Supreme Court extending reservation benefits to Dalit Christians without considering the historical background of Christianity could deal a death blow to the Indian nation as it would actively encourage conversions sponsored by western Governments seeking cultural and political domination in India. The Supreme Court would do well to consider that most conversion activities in India are focused on strategic areas (like the north-east) and also upon clusters, with the result that pockets of minority concentration are created, which inexorably force others out.

It is precisely this concentration that makes sedition and partition possible. India has already experienced such a Partition in 1947. That was engendered by the British to nurture the Cold War strategic needs of the West. But the more recent but less studied example of East Timor (which deserves a more detailed examination) shows that conversions were used by Western missionaries to delink Indonesia’s oil-rich portion. The result is that the native people of what the so-called “independent” East Timor have gained nothing, and their oil wealth is being exploited by the White fellow Christians of Australia! India’s Dalit Christians would do well do undertake a world wide study to see if Christianity has benefitted any non-White nation.

A dalit convention on conversion

At the same time, they might consider it worth their while to sue their respective churches and parishes, and particularly foreign missionaries like Benny Hinn and Ron Watts, for acts of omission and commission. These should include breach of promise for failing to deliver on the promise of social equality and economic upliftment. Specific grievances should be listed, such as poor educational status. As the Church literally mints money by running schools, colleges and professional institutions throughout the country, it could be compelled to provide free education to children of all Christian families upto graduate level.

Dalits who were lured to the Christian fold to better their social, economic and educational status should rethink their move and return to their traditional cultural moorings.

I would like to unequivocally state that as far as the Hindu majority is concerned, Dalit upliftment is a social commitment and a national goal. But when ex-Hindus argue that upper caste converts to Christianity continue to dominate the Christian clergy and laity, they must understand that the Hindu community cannot be held responsible for perpetuation of upper or lower caste identity in another religious group. Hence, Dalit who were lured to the Christian fold to better their social, economic and educational status should rethink their move and return to their traditional cultural moorings.

Given the fact that the present Government is virtually run by UPA chairperson Smt Sonia Gandhi, I feel uneasy that the Supreme Court has admitted a petition on inclusion of Dalit Christians within the category of Scheduled Caste, especially as this had been rejected by the NDA government in 2002. In fact, at that time the Apex Court had ruled that the list of entries in the SC and ST categories under the Presidential Order of 1950 lay within the purview of legislative action and was final and that the courts could not “add or subtract” from the same. Now, however, the UPA Government has appointed the Justice Ranganath Misra Commission as well as the National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities to give recommendations on the issue of Dalit Christian reservations. One can only hope that a nationalist perspective will be placed before the Court when it next hears the matter in February 2006.

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