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, January 10, 2006

Conversion destroys ancient communities and incites violence

This is the second and final part of the address of Dr Subramanian Swamy as Chief Guest at the Anniversary Celebration of Arsha Vidya Gurukulam.

When independent India debated the draft Constitution in the Constituent Assembly, enormous pressure was brought to bear within the Assembly and outside, to make the freedom to convert a fundamental right. Within the Assembly, the leader of Anglo-Indians, Mr. Frank Anthony stated that the right to convert to Christian faith was the “most fundamental of Christian rights” [Constituent Assembly Debates III; p.489-90]. He and other Christian groups wanted Article 25 to be so re-drafted as to make the right to carry on conversion activities as a fundamental right. But with the exception of a few, others did not agree. Dr. Ambedkar despite his own stated views against conversion as a right, was prevailed upon by Nehru to draft a hotch-potch Article 25, which meant all things to all persons, which then was adopted by the Constituent Assembly.

However, soon after Independence, the pinch of induced conversion began to be felt, and some State governments, notably Madhya Pradesh and Orissa Vidhan Sabhas enacted laws banning induced conversions. In 1977, a ruling Janata Party MP Om Prakash Tyagi brought forth a Private Member’s Bill in the Lok Sabha to seek Parliamentary approval to get a law enacted to make induced conversions a national offence. Unfortunately, despite it having wide support, the Janata government did not last long enough to enact a law banning induced conversions.

In 1977, the Supreme Court clarified in a landmark judgment that Article 25 however worded did not allow for the right to convert. Chief Justice A.N. Ray opined that “if a person purposely undertakes the conversion of another to his religion, that would impinge on the freedom of conscience guaranteed to all citizens of the country alike”. Despite this clear ruling, governments that have come and gone have failed to translate the judgment into an explicit law. Since then the political play of secularism has continued to dilute the resolve of governments to stop induced conversions.

Now the freedom to convert has become of international concern. V.K. Shashikumar in an article titled: “Bush’s Conversion Agenda for India” and published in Tehelka in February 2004 states that a project code named JOSHUA projects I&II was formulated by US Evangelical groups to map the 1,52,786 post offices in India and codified by PIN codes, and then identify who and how conversion may be planned. Based on this project, a recent September 2005 conclave in Dallas, Texas targeted that 100 million converts from Hinduism should be achieved by 2020. Of course, knowing the US scene as I do, there are other Christian groups in the US who are apprehensive that these Evangelical groups may end up giving Christianity a bad name, and having been using the web blogs to expose these groups. One such concerned group, the Trinity Foundation had exposed Benny Hinn who had earlier been received almost as a State Guest in Bangalore to hold his fraud congregation to demonstrate his miracle cures. But India bears the brunt of the likes of Benny Hinn and not Trinity Foundation. And when we speak of Christian missionaries we mean those whose mission is to proselytize. And, of course, it is an international effort and we need to set our minds to have none of it.

Ms. Jayalalitha as Chief Minister brought into law a statute titled Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Forcible Conversion of Religion, but soon she had to beat a hasty retreat when the US Consul General based in Chennai met her and apprised that the said statute violated US law on religious freedom. This was a sad capitulation for Tamils in particular and Indians in general. Ms. Jayalalitha, claiming to be a staunch Hindu, was devoid of courage and had feet of clay. That is the mindset that we need to combat.

I must make clear here however that I do not oppose voluntary and unforced conversion to Hinduism of those presently of the Semitic religions, such as Christians and Muslims of India, because all Indians, except Parsis, Jews and Syrian Christians, are either Hindus or those whose ancestors are Hindus. Their becoming Hindus is re-conversion and a return to the Hindu fold. For most Christians and Muslims in India, the conversion of their ancestors in the past was coerced openly, crudely, savagely, or subtly, but it was not voluntary. One has to read what happened to Guru Tegh Bahadur to imagine what else must have happened in the country to make Hindus to convert. Today, every Muslim and Christian in India is a living example of that despicable violence against the Hindus. We may try to understand what and why it had happened in the past, but we should not forget the lesson embedded in the brutally forced conversions that did take place. We should therefore all be thankful to Swami Dayananda Saraswati for his open letter to the Pope of Vatican, John Paul II, during latter’s visit to New Delhi to preach the Gospel. In that letter the Swamiji boldly stated:

“Religious conversion destroys centuries-old communities and incites communal violence. It is violence, and it breeds violence” [].

I am also not advocating that Hindus and other religionists must confront each other, and not interact or dialogue on any issue. Far from it, I advocate vibrant debate and discussion on most religious issues, but not on those issues which will erode or undermine the Hindu foundation of India. On the question of religious conversion, it should now be treated as a closed chapter. Hindus true to their legacy will not permit it. Either, true Hindus will prevail, or India will be deformed, twisted and ultimately, like Greece and Egypt, transformed beyond recognition. India as the world has known and admired would then be destroyed forever. Hence, instead Hindus must remain steadfast and carry the ‘war’ to the camps of Christian missionaries and Muslim mullahs of India and make the Christians and Muslims see how they too can take pride in their great Hindu ancestry, and are welome anytime of their choosing back to the Hindu fold. A Russian scholar, Alexander Zinoviev, of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, recently published an article in the Organiser (issue dated October 23, 2005) that was titled: “For India’s Survival Hinduism has to Prevail”. In it he states:

“…..during the Renaissance, Western Europeans realized that they were successors of ancient Rome and Greece, and embraced their culture which for long centuries was being condemned by the Roman Catholic Church as “pagan” and “non-Christian”, [hence] one day the Muslims on the Indian sub-continent will understand that they are inheritors of a great civilisation completely different from that of Arabs and the Middle East. This is a problem of education and knowledge”

Of course before we can motivate and persuade the Indian Christian and Muslims to accept that their ancestors are Hindus and because of this fact they have the option of returning to Hinduism, we Hindus have to set our house in order. Over the centuries since Adi Shankaracharya, the Hindu religion has not undergone a renaissance. There have been valiant attempts, but these had been circumscribed by political compulsions of the time foisted on us by invasions and imperialism. Often these attempts at renaissance had to be aborted due to these compulsions. In 1947, however we Hindus had an opportunity to usher a renaissance without compulsions, but the misfortune of a long tenure as Prime Minister of a self-confessed agnostic and the political culture imported from a God-less Communist Soviet Union thoroughly froze the distortions in Hindu religious practices. It is imperative therefore to create a new Hindu corporate awareness to confront these distortions frontally and remove them. Otherwise, the forces ranged against Hinduism today will succeed in their nefarious designs.

I do not oppose voluntary and unforced conversion to Hinduism of those presently of the Semitic religions, such as Christians and Muslims of India, because all Indians, except Parsis, Jews and Syrian Christians, are either Hindus or those whose ancestors are Hindus.

I am particularly concerned with the effect the varna vyavastha [caste system] is having in promoting religious conversions. It gives a talking point to the enemies of Hinduism. It is not that other religions do not have a stratification based on origin of the individual. Dalit converts to Christianity, for example, learn the hard way about their low status in their new religion, and hence are asking for reservation in jobs and education even after conversion ! Of course, we should never agree to that because reservation is strictly a correction for the malfunction of the Hindu society in the past, and in fact reservations should have been confined to schedule castes and tribes only who have remained Hindus despite all the atrocities heaped on them for centuries. Christians and Muslims have been ruling classes in India for a thousand years and hence certainly not deprived or discriminated in any way. In that sense, scheduled castes are more steadfast Hindus than those of other castes, for having remained Hindus despite being deprived, humiliated and discriminated.

Moreover, I may add that I regard Dr. Ambedkar as the twentieth century intellectual who should be most admired by Hindu society for his profound perception of India’s history which perception he has fortunately for all of us recorded in books and articles. Not only did he write like a Hindu patriot, but he can be regarded as a joint architect, with Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel, of the geographical India of today. Had Dr. Ambedkar accepted the 1932 British imperialist offer for a separate electorate for scheduled castes, and Gandhiji had not staked his life on the line against it, India would have been completely balkanized before the British left in 1947. That was the imperialist plot and Dr. Ambedkar understood and a patriot refused to oblige. It is a great tragedy for India that personal jealousies led to his sidelining in politics after Independence and ultimately had frustrated him. It is not too late to venerate him even now by a campaign to demolish what is left of the caste system.

We owe it to Dr. M.V. Nadkarni for a brilliant study titled: “Is Caste System Intrinsic to Hinduism?” [Economic and Political Weekly, November 8, 2003] wherein he has proved beyond anyone reasonable doubt that “it is necessary to demolish the myth that caste system is an intrinsic part of Hinduism”. Dr. Nadkarni further argues very convincingly that “the caste system emerged and survived due to totally different factors, which had nothing to do with Hindu religion”. He concludes his study with a highly perceptive remark that the caste sytem “has collapsed today because all its functions have collapsed. It has lost whatever relevance, role, utility, and justification it may have had”

The caste system was never meant to create a Brahmin hegemony or was conceived as birth based. Brahmins were those venerated because they led a simple life and were devoted education and religious theology. But to become a rishi it was not necessary to be born of Brahmin parents. Valmiki, Veda Vyasa, Vishwamitra, and Kalidasa were not born in Brahmin families. Nor were Brahmins above the law. Ravana, a scholar of repute had to pay a heavy price for his abduction of Rama’s wife. Caste identification instead was by gunahs [virtues], as Lord Krishna told Arjuna according to the Uttara Gita.

Nor the recent researches on DNA of Indians show any racial differences amongst castes. So why tolerate a system which at the very least is obsolete and a stumbling block in the way of total Hindu unity? I urge all the dharma gurus and acharyas, to please find a way to campaign for the abolition of the caste system so that we may achieve a renaissance in Hinduism.

At this juncture in our history, nearly sixty years after securing freedom from successive oppressive regimes spread over a thousand years, empowered by a pluralistic democracy and on the verge of a major economic upsurge, Hindus are again finding themselves agonizing as to what the future holds for them as a religious community. Because of a greater readiness amongst Hindus to accept family planning and because effete governments over the years have failed to prevent illegal immigration of minorities from our neighbourhood, Hindus are in ratio of total population declining in numbers. More importantly, there are states of the Indian Union where Muslims and Christians are in majority, and Hindus are being denied their due in those states. In Kashmir, thousands and thousands of Hindus have been driven out in the despicably blatant ethnic cleansing. At this rate Hindus could become a minority with a hundred years. In Tripura, Hindu activists are being murdered every day by Christian terrorists. In the south, a Shankaracharya Mutt has been defiled by the state government filing false and bogus murder cases against venerated Holiness. The acharya was not permitted by a government official to perform his traditional pujas at the Rameshwaram temple because the acharya had this bogus case pending against him !! Even the carrying of the dand by the junior Shankaracharya of Dwarka was opposed by the government run Indian Airlines, and the sant had to disembark from the plane he was sitting in. And all this is happening while Hindus are in power in government.

Hence, Hindus need a new mindset the composition of which is in detail in my speech on “Fundamentals of Hindu Unity and the Concept of Hindustan” delivered before the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha Conference held in Mumbai on October 16-18, 2005. As I have said before, Hindus are under a siege, and they do not even know it. There is war on between “Om Shakti” and “Rome Bhakti” today through conversions.

Conversion activities are a symptom of the lack of a correct mindset among Hindus, and thus we must deal with this threat in that context.

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