Monday, 22 December 2008

To Convert or not to Convert?

I was reading through the comments in one of IHM's posts when I started to comment and then realised that I wanted to do a post instead!

We have heard a lot of justification of the violence in Orissa by the VHP/Bajrang Dal activists on the basis of avenging 'proselytisation'. I cannot understand how we can do anything but condemn it wholeheartedly. There can be justification whatsoever.

Firstly, Conversion is no crime in India - despite the efforts of the Sangh Parivar to make forced conversion a crime. 'Forcible converison' , to me is a term which is hugely ambiguous. In a secular democracy like India - how can we even think of having a law like this? If our citizens do not have the right to convert to any religion, to live in any way that suits them - what is the meaning of the democracy we live in? If India becomes a state where we are told what religion to follow, or when I can or not convert - I would much rather emigrate.

Secondly, if the missionaries are successful in converting the lower caste Hindus to Christainity - there is a reason for it. My father used to recount to me , how badly the lower castes used to be treated. He tells me of how even the shadow of a lower caste to fall on one of the higher castes was considered defilement! So they had to move away when my dad and his family approached. And then, magically when they converted - they could come into our living rooms! How fair is that? And why would any person not prefer that?

The caste system had reached such levels that to convert must have been a huge relief. And yes, if the Christian missionaries gave them incentives - what was wrong? When we could not give them the dignity, the respect - is it any surprise that they went where they got a lot more? Can you blame them, if they found respect in the society, education subsidised for their children, after converting? All this without violence! Just by promising and delivering social upliftment.

Thirdly, for all the efforts spent in the carnage in Orissa - would it not have served everyone better if these groups had looked inwards and tried to make changes to the system, so that people are less likely to be tempted by conversion? How about starting good quality schools ? Hospitals? Trying to do what can be done to abolish the caste system? Obviously, the last point is not an easy one - but if every person tried - I am sure it could happen? My granddads - on both sides, believed in it strongly - so none of my parents and their siblings have the caste in their names.. Having said that - I am not so sure 'de-recognizing' castes will work in reality- with the reservation system that we have in place. We have to make people want to convert/or stay a Hindu - force is no way to go. But surely, we can try - instead of killing and raping innocent people!

Fourthly, how can VHP/Bajrang Dal consider themselves as the representatives of Hindus? I am proud to be a Hindu but these acts have really made me ashamed. It is sad that Hinduism , which is actually a way of life, is being defiled by these people. Since we are 'born' Hindus, we do not have any 'baptism' to make us Hindus - how can re-conversion mean anything? Surely, a true representative of Hinduism, should be above all this? As a Hindu, I do not go to temples, do not believe in most of the rituals, do not undertake any fasts, do not wear any symbols of my religion - does that make me any less Hindu? If this continues, very soon, I will be told that I am a 'non-believer' or maybe I would have to 're-convert'?

Forcibly stopping conversions or forcing people to 'reconvert' is just as bad(worse actually) than forced conversions. I just hope people rise above all this and all of us condemn such horrible, horrible acts of violence. As long as there are even a small segment of people who try to justify this - these fringe elements will continue to wreck havoc. We have to collectively show that these fringe elements who assume that they speak for us - have NO support from us.


Indian Home Maker said...

Came to say this is a nice name, although the last name was also not bad :)

Yes I totally agree Smitha, we need to look within ourselves. We also need to think of our religion beyond numbers and statistics. I wish we had serious reform movements like Arya Samaj Movement and Raja Ram Mohan Roy's reforms.

The biggest purpose of any religion is to make us better people, if it stops doing that - what good would it be?

This post cheered me and made me hope for better days for all of us. Because, like Obama says, we are all connected, if some of our countrymen are dying, how can the rest of us be happy?
Thank You for this brilliant post :)

aShyCarnalKid said...

I like what you said . We need to bring about changes so that there is no need to convert . We need to end Casteism . But there are certain tactics used by the missionaries which are to condemned in a similar fashion . But as you said , the focus should be more to curb our own system first . And I must say the way VHP/BD react to something like this , no wonder most of the intelligentsia stays away from them . When will they learn ?

Mavin said...

A few states in India have passed the Freedom of Religion Act which makes proselytisation a crime.

However, it is very difficult to prove a forcible conversion as the whole issueis very subjective and personal. That probably explains why there a almost no convictions under the Act.

That, however, does not mean that conversions do not happen.

You are right when you say that the lower "castes" are targeted. I think amongst the so-called "Lower castes" the economically backward are the prime targets.

I have yet to see in my life a economically well placed person (coming from all states/castes) convert out of conviction that the other religion suits his/her spiritual needs.

Caste system, has been a curse in our society. Abolition never worked as that is a legal measure. Such changes are social changes and have to come from within.

Urbanisation, education, exposure, economic upliftment, spread of development across the country are other positive contributors to reducing the hold of caste system.

This is like a termite infestation of our home walls. We take appropriate steps to clean that and do not abandon our house or criticise the termites - do we?

manju said...

Smitha, For the record- I think violence can never be justified.

India is a nation where many religions have fllourished through the ages. Religious diversity is not something new here.

In Orissa, those opposing conversions to Christianity must be thinking of the situation in the North-East states.

There, whenever Christians have obtained majority ,they have always, repeatedly, made a demand for a separate Christian Sovereign state.

In my opinion, this is treason, and not to be considered in any situation.

Are people wrong in being apprehensive that the same situation will arise in Orissa?

Smitha said...

@IHM, Thank you. The name was too common - I had not realised it when I first started blogging.
As for 'The biggest purpose of any religion is to make us better people, if it stops doing that - what good would it be?' - I totally agree. There are movements like the Chinmaya Mission , for instance who are doing their bit - but they are not that very widespread, I guess.

@Kislay, Even if the missionaries use 'certain tactics' to convert - violence is hardly the way to make them stop. All this violence has only helped in as you say ' no wonder most of the intelligentsia stays away from them . When will they learn ?' It might have been much more productive if VHP/Bajran Dal had approached the issue in a humane way.

@Mavin, Yes you are right - we have to take steps to contain and eradicate the 'termites'.

@Manju, As far as I was aware, the North east situation was not just due to their 'Christian identity'. I think they had some other issues as well. I might be wrong though.. Having said that - secession should certainly not be entertained. Surely, we should try and get the people to want to stay with India - rather than force them to? After what happened in Orissa - it just gives ammunition to those who want to try and question India's credentials. If VHP/Bajrang Dal had wanted to stop conversions - they should have tried to take steps to ensure that no one wants to convert in the first place..

OG said...

Good one.....
If it was upto me, I would have banned the BD a long time ago just like SIMI....
and the real Hindu needs to stand up.....

Smitha said...

@Ajit, Thank you. As you mentioned in your blog - the only way forward id for us to have a truly secular country.

Anonymous said...

It all boils down to development, that's what I have felt. When someone gives you food, clothing and shelter; and dignity, that person is equivalent to God. That's the reality of the largely underdeveloped areas of India. We must realise the glitzy, glossy visible face of India, is just a very small percentage of the large country....

Smitha said...

Welcome to the blog, Pradeep. Yes you are right, it all boils down to development. You are right when you say 'When someone gives you food, clothing and shelter; and dignity, that person is equivalent to God. ' Unfortunately, even the reservations that have been given have not really served the purpose as they have not really helped the masses. Unless work is done at the grass root levels - things will not change.

Vikram said...

Manju, Mizoram and Meghalaya are Christian majority states in the NE, and they are among the most patriotic Indians.

Anonymous said...

A very nice post Smitha..
Me too have the same opinions on the Orissa incident..
I still don't know what VHP, RSS and BD tried and what they achieved. And what our government expects BD or VHP to do to ban them? Already they have crossed all the limits..

Mavin said...

A rejoinder to Vikram...

No issues on Meghalaya.

Mizoram along with Nagaland was at the forefront of the secessionist movement. Laldenga led the Mizo National Front demanding independence from India. This was finally put to end after the Rajiv Gandhi - Laldenga peace accord.

In Nagaland the movement was led amongst others by Phizo.

Born Hindu said...

Atleast understand hinduism before talking about standing up as a hindu.

Indian Home Maker said...

We are all missing you Smitha :)

Don't want to bother you, only if you find the time once you are back,
You have been tagged :)

Smitha said...

@IHM - Thanks so much for the tag - will do it once I am back. Internet god is not too happy with me these days :(

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