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.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Why are we opposed to conversions?

An answer to a thousand questions
By Raghvendra Singh

Indian state and politics are going through the most decisive phase in post Janata movement era. How the state responds to the ongoing crises will be interesting to see. Whether the state is able to formulate and implement an independent policy for internal affairs is another serious matter that we need to observe seriously but not silently. Unfortunately, till now the UPA led ruling combine at the Centre hasn’t come out with any strong stand.

So from now onwards we can’t speak loudly if our brethren are being targeted and killed in an island nation....or if they are targeted in some South-East Asian country like Malaysia. A descent reason: Because we don’t interfere in the internal matters of any sovereign country; but at the same time European Union and other western countries have each and every right to advise and dictate us about our internal affairs. Because neither they are over from the mentality of treating us like colonised people nor our colonised, western ideas dominated minds are able to reject them as our masters, be it in foreign affairs or in internal affairs. This whole gamut of issues is relevant in the present context of conversions.

Conversions are something that have become benchmark for defining a secular identity. If you are standing in favour of conversions then you are undoubtedly secular otherwise you are considered as a Hindu fundamentalist, communal, orthodox and irrational creature knowing nothing about the secular sciences, secular humanities and other such secular knowledge systems. Though King or Queen of Britain may be the protector of the faith and at the same time a ceremonial head of a secular state.

Religious conversions are intricately linked with change in the value systems, belief and self defining capacity of an individual or a group. The point for our opposition to any kind of attempt to convert must be based on opposing these new value systems that are to be brought with the new religion. It is interesting to see what are the values that are associated with the new religion which is so desperate to expand its canvas? Do these values talk about peaceful coexistence? Is this new religion able to tolerate the diversities that are natural to be found in human society; and if the answer is yes then we must also look into the history of this religion in the society where it originated.

What have been the responses of this so called liberating religion to various social issues? How far this new religion has succeeded in providing a kind of solace to disgruntled and disenchanted individuals who are too tired with this materialistic world? How far this new religion will be successful in providing a much needed impetus to the process of nation building? These are few questions that we need to think about a thousand times before opposing this new religion. This so-called liberating religion has marched progressively in history with a proud (?) history of blood-shed, imperialism, colonization of several peaceful societies and then domination and exploitation followed. The very much liberal values that this religion is credited with to promote, have degenerated into unhindered pursuit of wealth, pleasure and material satisfaction. Fundamentalism of this religion and libertarian policies now being promoted by this religion go together. These are the same libertarian policies that have taken the Indian state into its grip. So today Indian state is happy to displace some people for the sake of development. To whom this development is meant for? Does it provide any relief to our ‘farmers’ or our Vanvasi bandhus whose voices have been forcefully suppressed to not to come out of the vacuum created around these groups?

Vanvasi societies are the most descent and self sufficient societies with limited desires. They represent the most egalitarian society with total absence of patriarchy. They are the kind of societies that are capable to show us the way in this modern era. They are not asking for anything from any messiah. What has Indian state done to them except marginalising and displacing them continuously. Now these liberating missionaries, born with a prejudice of white man’s burden are trying to convert them not for giving them any relief but to create another consumer class for profit thirsty industries and globalisation. After all, where from more and more profit is supposed to come from if some groups are not trained in using tooth pastes or perfumes or cars and other such products? The attempt to convert these groups is to familiarise them with a new life style.

The conversion works in a multifaceted way for these missionaries. Through these conversions they are also marching towards establishing the supremacy on whole world. Hence, it is our moral responsibility and duty to oppose any such attempt. If you want a highly individualistic society where no one is bothered to think about the deprived or downtrodden.....then you stand with these machineries. If you have become modern enough to just get satisfied with only your own food and material necessities and without sparing a minute for the people sleeping with empty stomachs then you stand by these missionaries. If you don’t have time to think about the displaced people, then, my dear...you stand by them. It is your moral responsibility to stand against these agencies. No one needs to tell this to you, my friend....it is upto you that how do you take a stand on such issues.

Does this religion believe in peaceful coexistence? If yes, then why are they not satisfied with the status quo? Why are they so desperate to eat every ‘other’ group and digest. Why they couldn’t reconcile with Jews? Why are they unable to live peacefully with Islam? Why are they scared that their identity is endangered even if they are the one with second largest followers in the world? Why couldn’t they find any lady Pope till now? What kind of a solace this religion has provided if the maximum number of mental patients are in western world? Why can’t they think about anything other than unipolar world?

What followed in Kandhamal after the murder of Swami Laxmanananda is an answer of the oppressed global minorities. Its an answer from those Vanvasi bandhus who don’t like any kind of external interference in their life style. The biased media, academicians, historians and the intelligentsia can’t suppress the truth. If Orissa is ‘burning’ so much then why an excellent victory was handed over to BJD-BJP alliance in recently concluded civic polls of the state?

Religion is not something to fight for. But when it comes to erase your thousands year old civilisation, identity and value system and you are sitting silently then your future generations will never pardon you for your cowardliness. Do you want to have a generation with confused identities? Do you want a generation with a fragmented family system? Rise up to the occasion and resist every such attempt that tries to destroy your civilisation and identity. If you are a confused mind about your own civilisation then please bother to look into an atlas and find out the early historical extent of the Indian civilisation. We believe in peaceful coexistence but not at the cost of our own existence. We are tolerant but not at the cost of intolerance from any other religious group.

An ideal religion should never show tolerance to intolerance. Religion is not only spiritual, it is intricately linked with culture also. It is this cultural umbrella that provides you and us a sense of belonging to a larger whole. But this belonging should not be confined only to rituals, we need to think about the poor, downtrodden and oppressed. Ethics are fine, you pray daily in morning and evening.....its also fine...but if you don’t....then too its fine. Doing something for our needy brethren is the most essential part of our religion. We should never forget that for a hungry person a piece of bread is the primary necessity and rest follows. Let’s take an oath to work for the uplift of our brethren. This will be the real service to god (if you are a theist),...to humanity (if you are a humanist)... to society. (if you are an atheist) and to ‘base’ (if you are an atheist and socialist). At the same time it will also be a fitting reply to the liberators desperately engaged in the task of liberation through tools of religious conversions.

(The writer can be contacted at Centre for Political Studies, School of Social Sciences, JNU, New Delhi.)

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