Conversion: Is the stage set for the mother of all debates? – S. Gurumurthy

S. Gurumurthy“Conversion is destruction of culture, nation and state, while assimilation is construction of all the three. Mahatma Gandhi was as plain as the RSS in his testament Hind Swaraj. In which after three decades, he said, he was unwilling to change a comma or full stop — that assimilation of Muslims was the answer to Hindu-Muslim problem.”  – S. Gurumurthy

Muslim to Hindu in AgraIf, as reported, the conversion of 350 odd Muslims in Ved Nagar in Agra to Hinduism is the work of RSS, it is clear that the RSS has grown strategic. By a small move that is smart too, the RSS seems to have triggered a debate on conversions which it has been asking for decades but evaded by its critics who merely kept abusing the RSS. Hindus are not best known for strategic thinking, save exceptions like Sri Krishna, Chanakya, Chatrapati Shivaji and Mahatma Gandhi. Lack of strategic thinking among Hindus is no surprise because they did not have any agenda to capture, subordinate and rule the world through their religion, Gods or weapons.

Recently The Economist magazine [March 30, 2013] derided India’s lack strategic culture as the main impediment to its emergence as global power. The Economist is right. Hindus did not need, and therefore did not have, offensive strategy against any. Stray strategic thinking like uniting the Hindus has been late development in Hindu history, more oriented to defending their religion and culture that is inclusive. 

The RSS, which spearheads efforts for a harmonious Hindu society, has been quite plain about its agenda yet inclusive in its philosophy. It calls this nation, not the Indian state, as Hindu Rashtra. It believes that Indian Muslims are not heirs of the Arabs, but very much indigenous in stock. Nor Christians in India, in its view, European descendants. Its conviction is that all Indians have the same, not different, forefathers and culture.

On facts and logic, the RSS seems right. Even Muslims, who are generally exclusive, never claimed a different ancestry till as late as early 19th century. In the Census of India in 1901, out of some 6.6 crore Muslims living in undivided India, only 3.5 lakh (just a Swami Vivekanandaminuscule one in two hundred) had claimed to be heirs of Mughals (Hindu Culture During and after Muslim Rule: Survival and Subsequent Challenges by Dr. Ram Gopal. 1994).

The RSS had relied on this logic and fact of common ancestry to seek to assimilate Muslims and Christians into the national mainstream.

Assimilation harmonises. And does not antagonise. Swami Vivekananda told the proselytising religions at World Parliament of Religions in his final address to them on September 27, 1893, to assimilate, not destroy .

Assimilation is not destruction because it is not conversion. Conversion destroys.

V.S. NaipaulAccording to the Nobel Laureate Sir V. S. Naipaul, “To be converted you have to destroy your past, destroy your history. You have to stamp on it, you have to say ‘my ancestral culture does not exist, it doesn’t matter .’”

Conversion is destruction of culture, nation and state, while assimilation is construction of all the three. Mahatma Gandhi was as plain as the RSS in his testament Hind Swaraj [1909]. In which after three decades, he said, he was unwilling to change a comma or full stop — that assimilation of Muslims was the answer to Hindu-Muslim problem. Asked whether the introduction of Mohammedanism had not unmade India as a nation, Mahatma Gandhi said: “India cannot cease to be one nation because people belonging to different religions live in it. The introduction of foreigners does not necessarily destroy the nation, they merge in it. A country is one nation only when such a condition obtains in it.”

Mahatma Gandhi was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1937, 1938, 1939, 1947, and a few days before he was assassinated in January 1948. He did not receive the prize because he refused to be converted to Christianity and severely criticized missionary work in India.That country must have a faculty for assimilation, India has ever been such a country.  But, when RSS spoke of assimilation, the ‘seculars’, ignorant of what Gandhi or Vivekananda had said or ignoring both, abused it as communal. The ‘secular’ megaphones were so noisy that they drowned all feeble voices calling for saner debate.

Does it need a seer to say that the people most devastated by conversion are and continue to be Hindus? Undeniably, every non-Hindu in India is a convert from Hinduism. Conversion hits almost exclusively only the non-proselytising Hinduism. Therefore, for several decades, it is the Hindu outfits which have been demanding ban on conversions. The Christians and Muslims and, for their ballot papers, the ‘seculars’, were opposing.

The Niyogi Committee Report On Christian Missionary ActivitiesNow Agra conversions seem to have trapped the ‘seculars’ into debating the very idea of religious conversions. When the RSS called for ban on conversions the ‘seculars’ said it was an attempt to stifle religious freedom. The ‘seculars’ have been evading this debate for decades even after the Supreme Court approved the anti-conversion laws passed by Madhya Pradesh and Orissa Governments in 1967. After the Niyogi Committee appointed by the Congress government in Madhya Pradesh had established that innocent tribals were being converted by allurement, fraud, force, inducement, or fraud, the anti-conversion laws were passed. No one could say that any one could be converted by such uncivilised means. Yet the Church challenged the law as stifling the right to profess and propagate  one’s faith granted under Art 25(1) of the Constitution. The Court threw it out saying “what Article 25(1) grants, by the word propagate, is not the right to convert another person to one’s own religion by exposition of its tenets. So propagation and conversion are not identical. Propagation is permitted by law but conversion is not.

Did any ‘secular’ party or leader tell the Parliament that this is what the Supreme Court said in 1977? If they did that then they have to talk against conversion of Hindus too. They only talked against Agra conversions, not conversions as such. And in line with them, the ‘secular’ media screams poor Muslims converted by Hindutva outfits . Undoubtedly both the ‘secular’ parties and the ‘secular’ media have been shocked by the Agra development. Why?

For them it has been normal and quite acceptable for poor Hindus to get converted to the only true faiths of the world. They never imagined that Hindus who believe all faiths are valid for their respective followers would ever convert others to their faith. The ‘seculars’ had almost reserved the right to convert only to those religions which believe their God as the only true God and the Gods of others fake and false and therefore have to be wiped out.

When the ‘seculars’ bowled the full toss of Agra conversions at Modi government, Venkiah Naidu promptly seized the opportunity “hitting the ball for a six “ to propose a central law for ban on conversions. Now is the Modi government not free to bring a law to ban conversions by inducement and fraud, including Agra conversions? It is. If it does, can the ‘seculars’ oppose it? Cannot. Because if they do then they cannot fault Agra conversions. If they do not, then they cannot oppose a law that will stop millions of Hindus being converted through inducement and allurement.

Venkaiah NaiduWhat the RSS could not achieve by decades of reasoning and pleading, it seems to have got on a platter by its single act of converting a few hundred Muslims into Hindus and trapping the ‘seculars’ to oppose it.

Indeed a very small price to pay for a very logical outcome namely debate for ban on induced and fraudulent conversions. The stage is now clearly set for this mother of all debates.

Tail piece: Ban on such conversions is fully in line with the declaration of all world religious leaders on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights held in Amsterdam under the aegis of United Nations on 10th December 2008.

All religions including Hinduism, Buddhism and the two proselytising religions Islam and Christianity have signed a declaration that they shall mutually respect, not deride, each others’ faith. Is it not clearly the Hindu view? They also agreed that the freedom to retain one’s religion or choose another shall be without coercion or inducement. Is this not what the RSS has been asking for decades? – The New Indian Express, 14 December 2014

» S. Gurumurthy is a well-known commentator on political and economic issues. Email:comment@gurumurthy.net

7 Responses

  1. Excellent and informative narrative.

  2. Jugal Kishore

    Conversion is what Muslims, Christians do; what VHP does is not conversion: Jugal Kishore, VHP functionary – Economic Times – December 15, 2014

    The Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s Jugal Kishore, in charge of ‘Ghar Vapsi’ meant to ‘reconvert’ Muslims and Christians, speaks to Nistula Hebbar on the controversial programme. Edited excerpts:

    Q.: What do you have to say to the anti-conversion bill proposal?

    A.: What we do is not conversion. We want conversions done by other religions through huge funding of petro dollars and missionaries to be investigated and stopped. Religious conversion is a national problem. We want a bill which will make it difficult to convert people to other religions. Conversion is an attack on country and a conspiracy to divide it again by attacking the roots of our national culture.

    Did you know why Communist leader EMS Namboodiripad gave a statue of Nataraja to the Chinese leadership? It was because it depicted Indian culture; not the Bible or the Koran. It was for the same reason that Narendrabhai Modi presented the Gita to Obama.

    Q.: Why is VHP converting people?

    A.: What we do is ‘ghar vapsi’ – getting back converted people back into the fold. It is not conversion. When we went to the northeast, tribals were seen worshipping nature. We said, Hinduism also worships nature, tulsi, the peepal tree, gaumata, etc. We are no different.

    Q.: What ritual have you devised, since there is no such thing as conversion in Sanatan Dharma?

    A.: Again, this is not conversion. It is a simple acknowledgement that some people were converted to other religions and now want to return. This has been done by people historically too. Madhvacharya did this, Vidyaranya Swamiji did this, Rishi Deval did this. Even Shivaji, whose associate Netaji Palkar was converted to Islam, got him back into the Hindu fold. In no case is VHP making people Hindus in Arab countries or in Christian countries. We just want our people to realise their identity.

    As for the ritual, there is no such fixed thing. Our local units reach out to people, tell them through our vanshavali (lineage) programme their family tree, when they underwent convrsion. Those wishing to return have to later file an affidavit and in some cases publish in newspapers. If there are many people, there is a ‘havan’ or ‘yagya’, where ‘sankalp’ is taken.

    Q.: Hindusim is structured on caste and even government benefits are distributed through caste identity, how do returnees fix themselves in this structure?

    A.: Most people already know which caste they belong to despite conversion to Islam or Christianity. In some cases, Hindus of their caste groups are contacted and a caste identity is accorded. Hindu leaders assure them that they would have consanguinity and marriage relations.

    Writer Muzzaffar Husain in a ‘vanshavali’ programme in Jaipur admitted that his family was Hindu three generations ago.

    In the Vedas there is no manual scavenging and boycott of people. If you look closely at these communities, their gotras have Solankis, Chauhans, Sisodias, Rathores etc. Because they were defeated Rajputs punished for not accepting Islam. They were made the lowest of low. Other Hindus were made to socially-boycott them.

    Now, Narendrabhai is trying to end manual scavenging and end the Mughal tradition.

    Q.: Will you facilitate Dalits Muslims and Christians who ‘return’ to secure benefits of reservations?

    A.: We do help such people to get a caste certificate. We help in filling forms and other legal procedure.

    Q.: What about allegations of allurement by some people in Agra?

    A.: These people, I feel, were put under pressure by custodians of the minority vote bank into recanting. We haven’t done anything illegal. This work was going on under Congress governments too. Stopping this would be politically motivated.

    Q.: Why are Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs not targeted?

    A.: We don’t consider these religions as foreign to India’s culture. They originated here. We consider Buddha as part of Vishnu’s Dashavatar. These religions do not cut one away from our cultural moorings. We don’t consider them foreign, as we consider Islam and Christianity.

  3. I love Hinduism very much; but, Hindus are not strong-mentally, physically, economically and as a social group. It is because of these, Hindus alone are being criticized by the Hindu Convert Leaders, who are very eager to convert Hindus.The West, which is offering lots of material comforts will never be able to appreciate the depths of Hinduism. Quoting our own leaders, whom we criticize now, reflects the prejudice by our own people-who want popularity. About a hundred and fifty years ago, people spent all their wealth, for the sake of ‘first theertham ‘ mariyaadai in a temple in down south. Did not the Nation, which boasts of Industrial revolution, launch of series of Crusades?

  4. Yogi Adityanath

    Conversion threat in Bihar – Correspondent – Deccan Chronicle – December 15, 2014

    Patna: Mass conversion controversy rocked Bihar on Sunday with the BJP MP from Gorakhpur Yogi Adityanath asking the sadhus and party workers in Vaishali district to launch a vigorous “gharvapsi” (conversion) programme.

    After Agra and Aligarh the VHP has targeted eastern UP that telescopes into some of the districts of no-rth Bihar to intensify its conversion programme. Sangh Parivar sources sa-id that Yogi Adityanath has taken upon himself the ta-sk of converting over 10,000 people in Poorvanchal.

    According to sources, the conversion programme wo-uld be held in Gorakhpur on December 16 and Ghazipur on December 18, both bordering the Bhojpuri speaking districts of Bihar.

    The MP’s conversion call has created an uproar with BJP leader Gopal Narayan Singh saying “Adityanath didn’t say anything wrong when he said homecoming is important.” The JD(U) and the Congress said that the country needs development and not sermons which may spark communal feelings.

  5. BJP president Amit Shah favours strong law to stop forcible conversions – The Economic Times – PTI – Dec 12, 2014

    NEW DELHI – In the midst of a raging row over conversions in Agra by Hindutva outfits, BJP chief Amit Shah today favoured a strong law to stop forcible conversions.

    But he lamented that the so-called secular parties will not come forward to support such a measure in Parliament due to their vote bank politics.

    “There should be no forcible conversions and a good law should be brought in Parliament against it. I appeal to all other parties to support such a law. But I guarantee that except for BJP, no other party will favour this law due to their votebank politics,” Shah said at a conclave organised by a media group.

    He agreed with Parliamentary Affairs Minister Venkaiah Naidu’s appeal in Parliament that all parties should unite in bringing a law on forcible conversions but why oppose if people want to convert by themselves.

    Shah’s remarks assume significance in the context of a controversy triggered by Hindu Jagran Samiti, an RSS outfit which organised a ‘ghar vapsi’ programme in Agra to reconvert Muslims back to Hinduism.

    Virtually disapproving of the controversial remarks of party MPs Sakshi Maharaj on Nathuram Godse and Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti’s hate speech, Shah said BJP leaders should show restraint and stay away from making comments on such issues.

    “Such comments come to limelight as BJP is now in power.I believe BJP MPs and leaders should stay away from such statements. They should adopt restraint,” he said.

    On the issue of ‘Love Jihad’, the BJP President said neither the party nor any of its leader has coined the word, which was a media creation.

    “Love jihad is a media creation. It is purely an issue concerning exploitation of women. We oppose it. No BJP leader has ever used this word,” he said.

    On the issue of Ram temple, he said, the BJP’s views are very clear that it can come up only through two means – either it will be constructed through consensus or through a court verdict.

    Shah reiterated the party’s resolve to make the country ‘Congress-free’ by 2019 and said the party will make this happen through its organisational strength in which the opposition party’s ‘weakness’ will also aid it.

    On the issue of black money, Shah said, the BJP government has taken concrete steps and is moving in the right direction while keeping its promise of bringing back blackmoney stashed abroad.

    “Be patient, allow us to work. We will surely bring the money back that will go into the state’s treasury. We don’t do votebank politics,” he said, adding that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the only PM to have raised the issue at the international level.

    On allegations of RSS interference in BJP’s affairs, Shah said, “BJP takes its own decisions.”

    On the growing RSS ranks in the party, he said, it has always been and cited examples of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, L K Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi. He said there is no harm if RSS membership is rising as it will do good to the country.

    To a question on what plans the party has for Delhi, the BJP chief said the BJP will grow with public support and exuded confidence of forming the next government with a good majority.

    “We do not decide on the mood of Lutyens Delhi or that of the media. Our confidence comes from the support of the people. I am sure BJP will form a majority government in Delhi after the elections,” he said.

    Shah denied any link to Muzaffarnagar riots and Trilokpuri violence ahead of polls and sought to change perceptions towards BJP in the wake of reports that he would do anything to win elections.

    “Riots used to take place earlier too. When Congress used to win, you never correlated riots with its victory. Now because we are winning, you see a link. We have nothing to do with riots. We work within Election Commission guidelines. You will see everything right if you change your perspective towards BJP,” he said.

    He said the new government has brought about a lot of difference while dealing qwith Pakistan, be it stopping talks with separatists or giving a befitting reply to firing along the border which the Congress government never did.

    “We do not form our foreign policy while compromising on India’s interests and neither to create an image in the media,” he said.

    On the Agra conversions case, he said, an FIR has been lodged and the law will take its own course as court will decide on whether the conversions were done forcibly or not the media.

    Shah maintained that there was a link up between the Burdwan blast accused and Trinamool Congress and challenged Mamata Banerjee to say in public that they are innocent. He said the BJP will never use CBI as a tool to meet its political ends which the Congress was using all along.

    “The accused in the Saradha scam and Burdwan blast are linked to TMC. Let Mamataji say in public that these people are innocent,” Shah said

    He rubbished talk that the Clean India campaign was providing a photo opportunity to celebrities and asked for inculcating a genuine culture for cleanliness.

    “All BJP CMs are making a blueprint. All other CMs should rise above party politics and prepare a blueprint instead of considering Swachh Bharat as Modi’s political agenda,” he said.

    The BJP chief said the party needs to renegotiate seats with Shiromani Akali Dal in Punjab in the wake of BJP’s growing strength.

    Noting that he shared a good equation with Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, he said the BJP will try its best to retain the coalition and work for it.

    He also said the BJP will contest the next election in West Bengal with an aim of forming a government and exuded confidence ion the party’s prospects there.

    Shah said his party will win the the ongoing Jammu and Kashmir assembly polls as well as the West Bengal assembly elections scheduled for 2016.

  6. One thing we have to remember is that it is converts who are rabid fanatics and that has been exactly the problem with Christians and Muslims of India.

    Though it is a known fact that all Christians and Muslims in India are converts from Hinduism they dont want to admit to it.

    • Sir, there is a 19th century saying in Hindi which is apt even today… naya mussalman, allah allah…. the neo-convert shouts allah the loudest…

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