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, May 01, 2007

Christian and Muslim colonialism

By Ravi Varma

It should be noted here that both Christians and Muslims in the Hindu kingdoms of Kerala were culturally assimilated with the local traditions and social customs. As such they used to actively participate in the major festivals of the Hindus, even abstaining from cow-slaughter and beef-eating. During the most important occasion of Onam celebrations in Kerala, the Muslims used to visit Hindu homes in the locality wearing Arab costumes and participating in the festivities by performing their traditional dances, with rhythmic beating of hand drums and singing songs in praise of the legendary God Mahabali, locally known as Vairavi Kali. Similarly, the local Christians were also equally active in their participation in Hindu festivals. For instance, during the ceremonial processions of the temple deity at Tripunithura around the surrounding communities for public worship, the Christians of the locality around Karingachira Church in Tripunithura, led by their church, used to light traditional lamps in front of the Church and offer measures of paddy and rice, similar to the practice of Hindus in front of their houses, to honour the deity. A spirit of mutual respect and social amity marked relations between the Hindus and members of the other religions, attesting to the magnanimity of the Hindu community, not by any compulsion or inducement as is the case today. That was Hinduism in action, i.e., Hindutva. However, the situation changed dramatically after the entry of European colonial Christianity and the murderous Muslim armies from Mysore led by Hyder Ali and his fanatical son Tipu Sultan into Kerala. This intrusion of hostile outsiders eventually resulted in the degeneration of the mindsets and social outlook of the local Christian and Muslim communities.

Universality of Hinduism as opposed to narrowness of Islam and Christianity

When Christianity became dominant in the Jewish country of Jerusalem, the neo-Christians began a process of hunting down and chasing out the earlier inhabitants, the generally peace-loving Jewish communities. This, in itself, is an indication that Christianity does not and cannot tolerate other religionists, and, in fact, Christianity has never been committed to universal peace and brotherhood with members of other faiths. Fleeing form the clutches of fanatic Christians, there were many who tried to escape to other countries. One group of Jews fleeing from Jerusalem landed in South India, on the Kerala coast, seeking asylum. The local king at that time, known as the Perumal gave them protection and extended land grants as well as other facilities for their settlement. This was in the first century AD. Since then, Jews have lived in the Hindu state of Kerala, with full freedom to follow their own religion and customs, without any interference from the local Hindu communities. It should be noted here that nowhere in the history of the Jews has there been a similar place in the world where the members of the community were enabled to live free without persecution from the state and local communities. This was to be found only in India, that too in the then Hindu state of Kerala. That is the spirit and practice of Hindutva—Hinduism in action.

Similarly, when the Islamic hordes invaded Persia, which had a great civilisation, heritage and culture, the peaceful followers of Iranian Zoroastrianism were persecuted mercilessly, tortured and massacred, and their fire-temple destroyed, simply in order to eradicate the local traditions and civilisation. This destruction of the local Persian traditions was so complete that only a few thousands of them were able to survive this onslaught. This is Islam in action, an experience that has been repeated worldwide, whether in Pakistan or Bangladesh or Afghanistan, as well as in many other countries. One group of Persians, who did, however, managed to flee from these armies, arrived at the shores of the then Hindu kingdom of Gujarat on the West coast of India and were granted asylum by the local king. These were the forerunners of the present Parsi community in India, a peace-loving and highly enterprising community, who still retain their own customs and traditions. The present successful integration of the Parsi community into the Indian mainstream would not have been possible without the magnanimity extended to them by the local Hindu communities and by the Hindu rulers of Gujarat. That is another shining example of Hinduism in action—Hindutva, which the present-day Christians and Muslims and their mercenary secularist cronies condemn as inhuman!

During the late tenth century, Mahmud of Ghazni invaded India with a large Muslim army and vandalised Hindu Gujarat, destroying many temples and pilgrimage centers. With a view to demoralising the local Hindu communities, he targeted important temples such as the one in Somnath, and in fact, destroyed the temple a number of times, even after the temple was rebuilt by the local communities after his departure. In order to further assert their superiority, the Muslims also erected Islamic structures such as mosques on the very spots where temples used to stand, as in the case of Ayodhya, Kashi, Mathura and Delhi. This is Islam in action—intolerant towards all other faiths and traditions and even vengeful on dissidents within its folds!

On similar lines, when Portuguese colonialists invaded Goa and established themselves there in the 16th century, one of their priorities was to spread the European version of Christianity, and with the use of force, engaged in widespread conversions throughout the land. The local temples were destroyed, the Hindus were harassed and humiliated, and Christianity was established. The Pope in the Vatican specially sent to Goa, Francis Xavier, a Jesuit Priest mainly to lead the conversion drive in Goa. Francis Xavier was instrumental in laying waste innumerable Hindu temples, looting and destroying them, and imposing severe restrictions on the local Hindus community by the use of force. His campaign of forcible conversion forced the Brahmins to flee Goa, thereby enabling Francis Xavier to confiscate their properties and enriching the Church. It was his habit to drive local villagers to open public grounds with the help of his band of military ‘volunteers’ and there to declare them as having been converted to Christianity, irrespective of whether the people gathered there wished to or not! This ‘glorious service’ to Christianity by Francis Xavier in the name of the Holy Church was acknowledged by the leaders of the Christian Church, albeit posthumously, by conferring “Sainthood” on him. Thus Francis Xavier became St. Francis Xavier! In this fashion, a Christian saint was specially created for the emancipation of Hindu India, a fitting example of the spirit of Semitic Christianity in action. On similar lines was the creation of a Christian saint specially for the Chinese nation, from among the missionaries that were killed there during the opium wars in China.

When the conversion drive intensified and grew oppressive, thousands of Hindus fled Goa and settled in different parts of what is now known as Karnataka and Maharashtra. One group of Gaud Sarswat Brahmins and Kutumbis from Goa reached the Hindu kingdom of Kochi in present-day Kerala as refugees. In the true spirit of Hinduism, the local King gave them protection and patronage, extending to them land grants as well as facilities for them to engage in trade and other professions. Today, like the Jews in the past, this small community of Konkanis (so-called due to their origins) plays a significant role in the socio-economic life of Kerala. That is the spirit of Hinduism.

Originally, in Malabar (now known as Kerala), it was the members of the poor fishermen community that were converted to Christianity, due to the influence of the earliest Christian missionaries that arrived from the shores of Syria. These Syrian Christians were followers of the Patriarch of Antioch. Not surprisingly, these Christians were assimilated into the local society and there were no communal divides. However, in later years, when the Portuguese discovered that not only were there Christians in Kerala, but also that they were followers of another Christian Church, the Christian missionaries accompanying the Portuguese colonialists decided to use all means to convert these Christians into followers of the Catholic Church headed by the Pope in the Vatican. For this purpose, a Jesuit priest Don Menezes, was specially deputed to Kerala by the Pope in the Vatican. As part of his mission, Don Menezes first tried persuasion and cajoling tactics, but when these proved unsuccessful, he decided to use force. He called for a Synod (a religious gathering of Christians) to held in Udayamperoor near the town of present-day Kochi to be attended by the local Christians. This was resisted by a majority of the local Syrian Christian community, leading to frequent skirmishes and armed conflicts between the two sections of Christians. This gradually escalated to such an extent that priests sent to Kerala from Antioch were even abducted and murdered by members of the Catholic Christian community, at the instigation of the Catholic missionaries. Undaunted, the members of the local and generally peaceful Syrian Christian community took a vow to unitedly oppose the forcible and dubious methods of conversions by the Catholic Christians, at a Christian chapel situated in Mattanchery. This significant event in the history of Syrian Christians in Kerala is known as the Kunam Kurissu Sathyam. Thus the Kunam Kurissu Sathyam is in itself a glaring example of the intolerance of the Catholic Christian Church, and stands, as a stark reminder of a time when conversion drives were forcibly carried out by one Christian community even against another Christian community.

(To be concluded)

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