To be able to choose ones faith is the prerogative of individuals
not only in democratic societies but has been so even in pre-modern
Religions have generally spread through the saints of particular
religions, but since the history as understood today is the history
kings, they are supposed to have spread the religions through their
Jihads, Crusades, Dharmayuddha and what have you.
In current times it is petrodollars or blankets and aspirin, which are supposed to be the bait for religious conversions. Our social
understanding of the process of religious conversions has made the journey from force to allurement. And so the Hindu Patriotic (RSS) force is seriously peeved by the conversions to Islam and Christianity, which are supposed to be aplenty around. It is probably with all this in mind that Ram Madhav, the spokesperson of RSS, brought up the RSS nightmare of conversions yet again. (June 7, 2003). The logic of condemning conversions leads this intolerant ideology to brand other religions with all sorts of things, which have no relevance in the social and political milieu of the day.
On one hand Madhav criticizes Christianity as intolerant,
exclusivist and supremacist religious doctrine, on the other he condemns the Papal exhortation to carry out evangelism in the country. It goes without saying that RSS has been very appreciative of "Anti-Conversion" laws promulgated in Tamil Nadu and Gujarat and invokes the other states to follow suit.
Why is it that RSS is relentlessly carrying on this anti conversion tirade? Is conversion a new phenomenon of Indian society? Or, for that matter is conversion something new on the horizon of the world? How come RSS and its politics Hindutva has woken up to this grave problem of Indian society, now?
The conversion of some Dalits to Islam in Meenakshipuram two decades earlier gave a boost to the RSS progeny VHP to come to the fore and create ruckus on the issue. As such it remained as one of the many issues.
From last five years it has been one of the major issues, which has been taken up by Hindutva politics. The burning alive of Graham Stuart Staines along with his two minor sons in January 1999 was the major event, which shook the conscience of the majority of the country, barring, of course, the Sangh Parivar for whom it was the spontaneous anger of local populace against the conversion activities of the Pastor.
The same time saw the attack on nuns, burning of Bibles and fatal attacks on two other people in Orissa itself. While the Iron Man, home minister Lal Krishna Advani, rushed to the defense of his sister organization Bajrang Dal, the perpetrators of the crimes, Bajrang Dal members, have as usual been treated with kid gloves. The Justice Wadhwa Commission of Inquiry which went into this gruesome tragedy did make two significant observations. One was that there was no increase in the Christian population of the area where the Pastor was working and two that Staines was not involved in conversion activities.
That apart the popular impression sunk that Christian Missionaries are here to convert. It should be noted that Indian Christianity is 16-17 centuries old and that during so many years of so-called proselytisation activities the population of Christians today is just 2.18% as per the 2001 census. Interestingly while on one hand the Christian missionaries are facing the charge of conversion the population off Christians is on the decline.
Lets have a look at the census data of last four decades, 1971- 2.60%, 1981-2.44%, 1991-2.32% and 2001- 2.18%. But here a new argument has been slipped in that the census data is not a true reflector of the population of Christians as there is a group of Crypto Christians who are Christians but do not declare so, in order to take advantage of reservation and other benefits.
The whole debate is extremely pathetic. One has pity for a society, which ignoring its core issues of poverty, hunger, disease and unemployment is forced to keep talking about such non-issues. The Papal exhortations have been there from centuries; the institutions have been there from centuries. If they were to work like what they proclaim the population profile of world would have undergone drastic changes. Madhav and his ilk, while deeply disturbed about the missionaries going to far flung places to implement converting agenda, totally overlook the heavy presence of Christian mission schools and hospitals in cities, where the same
type of people who also go to the remote places work. Why is Madhavs clan not worried about these urban centers spreading Christianity.
One remembers that the political cousins of Madhav, the Shiv
Sainiks, threatened a Christian school principal in Mumbai for not giving admission to some children as was recommended by him. Here the argument comes up that the urbanites like Shiv Sainik and RSS followers whose children study in mission schools are impervious to the allurement of Christian propaganda while poor adivasis are vulnerable to the guiles of missionaries. These banal arguments apart, one knows that at the heart of the heart conversion is not the issue. It is the struggle for Hindutvising the Adivasis that the whole exercise of anti-Christian propaganda is all about.
The rise of Sangh Parivar politics faced a big obstacle at the
Electoral front. Though it has been inching towards the electoral hegemony bits by bits, the big chunk of Adivasis remained aloof from the cultural and political Hindutvaisation of society. Also the enlightenment process brought to the Adivasis by the missionary education process created an awareness of their social and political interests. And these are in contrast to the interests of the elite social base of the RSS.
The Gujarat tragedy has brought to fore another use, which can be made of the Adivasis. Through cultural manipulations of Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram the Hindutvaisation has been accompanied by an intense anti Muslim and anti Christian sentiments. These have also been added up by economic measures where the local Muslims are projected as the exploiters. And this indoctrination has been made use of in providing the foot soldiers for RSS politics of anti-minority program.
It is remarkable as to how cultural symbols can be used and decades of social work done by the missionaries and other human rights groups can be washed off while bringing the worst out from the adivasis. And the signal coming from other states also give a pointer to this direction. The importance of cultural symbols is very clear in most an Adivasi areas.
While Hanuman is presented as the idol, Shabri Mata is the new
goddess, which has been brought forward. The combination could not have been more symbolic. Ram is the upper caste icon, Hanuman, the devotee of Ram, is idol for Adivasis, and Shabri the destitute, who feels overwhelmed due to Ram sharing her berries, is the new Devi for these groups.
The pronouncements of had always been there in one form or the
other. People do not convert for few aspirins or a couple of blankets. It is a total relationship, which prompts people to change their faith. In Indian society the chief cause of conversion has been the Brahminical social order with its caste rigidities, which has forced the low caste to seek options, which are socially more just. Right from Swami Vivekananda, who states the major converts to Islam came from low caste Shudras to the present post-Jhajjar conversions, via the efforts of Dr. Ambedkar, conversions have been a major escape clause for the low caste.
In India most of the religions were refuge for those oppressed by
Brahmin-Landlord combine. Hinduism, since Brahminism dominates it, has another problem as well. Each caste is segregatory. The low caste feels more comfortable with followers of Allah or Christ than those who are having the same path for salvation. One cannot become a Brahmin except as a reward for the good deeds of the past life. But one can become a Christian, Muslim or Buddhist, for example, by a choice exercised through ones will power. Brahminism, whose values are dominant in Hinduism is exclusionary in the social sense. Madhav may be disturbed that Pope claims that salvation is possible only through his path, but at the same time that path is open to all those who want it. In case of Madhavs Brahminical Hinduism there is a no entry board for others. In Madhavs Hinduism, his acolytes like Dilip Singh, Ju Dev are indulging in political proselytisation, but to what caste these Adivasis are converted to be a mystery.
Each religion has its own ways. At political level to bring in these matters is a deliberate ploy to distract the attention from social and political issues. It is an attempt to maintain status quo. These non-issues are being forced on the society, which has become very communalised by now. Whether one gets salvation or not after death may be of lot of interest to clergy and Madhav, but whether one gets ones livelihood while alive is what has to be the issue of debate today and now.