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, April 17, 2007

So the caste is a convert’s nightmare still!

Let the prodigals return home
By Sandhya Jain

Over the decades, evangelicals have sought to gain access to the caste-based reservation benefits of Hindu depressed classes. Though they failed to get religion-based reservations in the Constituent Assembly, the first Mandal Commission listed some ‘Muslim castes’ among the OBCs, and this set off the Christian quest for SC/ST benefits for ‘Dalit Christians.’ Dalit Muslims have now joined this bandwagon.

It is now certain that UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi is going to use the National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities (NCRLM) to procure Scheduled Caste status for Christian and Muslim converts once elections to the Uttar Pradesh Assembly are over. The Congress president has been itching to snatch caste-based quotas from the Hindu community and hand them over to Muslims and Christians for the past two years, and according to available indications, Justice Ranganath Misra is likely to play ball and recommend the delinking of religion from caste while deciding Scheduled Caste status.

Official leaks suggest that the Commission has already prepared its report. This would have been submitted to the government on March 26, but the announcement of UP election schedule made this inadvisable. Accordingly, the Commission was ‘advised’ to seek an extension till May 15. The sources have revealed that the report is not unanimous on extending SC benefits to non-Indic converts, but this may not deter a regime hell-bent upon damaging Hindu society by promoting conversions.

Historically and civilizationally, caste, the Portuguese term for jati or gotra, has been the organising principle of Hindu society from ancient times, and is integral to Hindu society and in fact, synonymous with it. The varna system provided a framework which integrated the diverse jatis and resolved mutual conflicts on the matrix of an evolving dharma. Both caste and dharma emphasised heredity because ancestry (gotra) was imperative as the spirits of the ancestors had to be invoked in all social sacraments (samskara) to establish the individual’s worthiness to receive the sacrament.

Caste/jati is rooted in the tribal concept of gotra, and gotra is the organising principle of both tribal and caste Hindu social identity. That is why the 1950 government order fixing the Scheduled Caste category was extended only to Hindus; later amendments in 1956 and 1990 extended the facility to Sikhs and Buddhists as part of a common Indic tradition.

Over the decades, evangelicals have sought to gain access to the caste-based reservation benefits of Hindu depressed classes. Though they failed to get religion-based reservations in the Constituent Assembly, the first Mandal Commission listed some ‘Muslim castes’ among the OBCs, and this set off the Christian quest for SC/ST benefits for ‘Dalit Christians.’ Dalit Muslims have now joined this bandwagon. What is more, there is now mounting evidence that SC/ST reservations in educational institutions are being stealthily cornered by non-Hindus.

This raises some fundamental questions. First, should those who have renounced their Hindu identity get the benefits of a caste identity, which is the sine qua non of being Hindu? Second, should individuals who have renounced their Hindu identity be allowed to retain their caste names and thus mislead society?

Political parties with the brand equity of being Hindu-minded parties need to deliberate and articulate their views on the issue of caste within missionary religions. A constitutional challenge to the OBC Muslim quota would be a step in the right direction of creating both Hindu consciousness and a Hindu centric vote bank. Certainly, the sterile approach of fighting for a piece of the minority vote bank should be avoided at all costs.

It bears stressing that Christianity and Islam profess complete worldviews and seek to completely annihilate the old religious and cultural beliefs of converts. Both ruthlessly wiped out the traditional religion and culture in the lands where they spread. The Pope’s pride in Europe’s “Christian roots” cannot disguise the truth that the faith is a cruel imposition of just 2000 years, and spread through brutal genocides in North and South America, Australia, and Africa. Islam similarly triumphed by wiping out native communities (including Christian) in lands where it became dominant. Both religions have regularly launched movements against “heretics” and resisted the liberalisation of dogma. Islam has the tabligh movement to cleanse Muslim adherents of old practices of their former faith traditions, Christian clergy are engaged in battle with modern “secularism.”

Caste has no place in the theology of Christianity or Islam. Hence in India, these faiths cannot be allowed to make a political expedient of caste and use it to undermine Hindu society from within. This is a political ruse to not merely permit so-called Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims to garner reservation benefits, but actively augment the conversion agenda of both groups.

Both Islam and Christianity are transnational religions with enormous numerical, economic and political clout. The Vatican in Rome caters to the interests of Catholics, while the World Council of Churches in Geneva looks after Protestants. The 2.1 billion-strong Christian community constitutes one-third of the world population, and its clout extends beyond national boundaries, as does that of Islam. Adherents of these transnational faiths should not be permitted to cannibalize the legitimate dues of Hindu depressed classes.

Moreover, as Christianity sought converts on the plea that it did not discriminate between believers, a claim later echoed by Islam, both owe an explanation for the persisting discrimination against low-caste believers in their ranks. The Church in India must be asked to explain the creation of separate pews and even cremation grounds for Dalit Christians, and their poor social and economic conditions.

Indeed, the National Human Rights Commission should take suo moto notice of this state of affairs, as this is nothing but a gross and institutionalised violation of human rights and human dignity. The Supreme Court would also do well to consider if such religion-based reservations amount to altering the basic character of the Constitution. It may also like to investigate why most conversion activities in India are focused on strategic areas (like the north-east) and upon clusters which create pockets of minority concentration and inexorably force others out.

Such concentration makes sedition and partition possible. 1947 happened because of the Cold War strategic needs of the West. More recently, East Timor happened after conversions by Western missionaries delinked Indonesia’s oil-rich portion. This has impoverished the native people of “independent” East Timor, while their oil wealth is being exploited by White fellow Christians of Australia! It would be interesting to examine if conversion to Christianity has benefitted any non-White people anywhere in the world.

The bottom-line is that if Christians and Muslims practice caste discrimination, the conversion process among them should be legally declared incomplete. They should be designated as non-Christians and non-Muslims and asked to complete the transformation to the new faith, or return to the Hindu fold. There can be no half-way house in this matter.

I suspect that the UPA’s real objective is backdoor political reservations for Dalit Christians by providing an opportunity to ‘steal’ the existing quota for Hindu Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Hindu society should rise to the occasion before it is too late.

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