Religious conversions, reservations and violence
The incidents of the violence against a section of Christians in Kandhmal and Mangalore are constantly increasing. Its reasons can be traced to aggressive religious conversions that are often based on pecuniary and social inducements..
CJ: R. Venkatesan Iyengar , 5 days ago Views:2160 Comments:7
THE RECENT attacks against a section of Christians and their places of worship in Kandhmal, Orissa and Mangalore, Karnataka by Bajrang Dal activists and their supporters are, no doubt, acts of intolerance and violence and deserve to be condemned in the severest terms. However, words like ‘persecution’ and ‘genocide’ used liberally by the foreign media to report these isolated incidents, shows that they can’t obviously, to rephrase an idiom, see the trees for the wood.
In other words, instead of focusing on the details – that is, as to what triggered the violence in both places – they have chosen to tar the whole thing as growing religious intolerance in India by opting for words like ‘persecution’ (harassing people on the basis of religion) and ‘genocide’ (systematic killing of a racial or religious group). To get down to the details, the violence in Kandhmal was sparked by the killing of 80-year-old Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, who had been leading a campaign against religious conversion of Hindu tribals to Christianity. And, what led to the attacks on churches and prayer halls in Mangalore was a controversial booklet titled ’Satyadarshini’ (The Truth), published by a local neo-convert to Christianity, which reportedly made offensive references to Hindu gods.
It is quite apparent that the cause behind the build-up to the violence in both places is ’religious conversion’, more precisely, conversion of Hindus, often socially and economically backward Hindus, to Christianity. That Christianity, like Islam, is a proselytising religion is a known fact. While Islam does not go about religious conversions aggressively, Christian missionaries belonging to different denominations have been actively encouraging and promoting conversion in India since the first Christian explorers landed on the Indian shores some six hundred years ago.
The words in The New Testament – And Jesus said to them, “Come you after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men” (Mark 1:17) – are often seen as Christ’s exhortation to his followers to be “fishers of men”, ie, convert them to the new faith, Christianity. However, what Jesus Christ meant by those words was to spread his teaching among people, notably among the Jews of his time, and thus create a spiritual enlightenment causing the people to lead a new life, where the first commandment is love for God and the second and final commandment is love for one’s neighbour or fellow human being.
The earliest conversions to Christianity were conversions of convictions. Individuals, who got converted, found in Christ’s teachings a new way of looking at God – not the Jealous God of the Old Testament (“For thou shalt worship no other god: For the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God”, Exodus 34:14), but a compassionate, all-forgiving heavenly father figure to humanity.
But as Christianity split into different and numerous denominations, conversion became a number game. As funds from Christian missions from rich countries started pouring into poor countries, the currency added an entirely new dimension to conversion. Conversions that should have remained in the realm of faith, soon degenerated into the realm of inducements.
While not all conversions are done through inducements, there is a grain of truth in the accusations that quite a few churches wouldn’t mind fishing in troubled waters. The ‘troubled’ waters they chose in Indian happened to be areas where socially and economically backward people lived.
That quite a few North-eastern states, which are dominated by tribal people, today have majority Christian populations is no coincidence. Even a cursory glance at the list of new Christian converts would show that the churches of different denominations focus on the vulnerable groups – poor, illiterates, chronic drunkards and socially deprived sections of the society. For, it is easy to sell a ‘dream’ to vulnerable people, who are on the lookout for a new lease of life, with whatever tag it comes.
However, the ‘dream’ of social equality remains a dream for many socially deprived sections of society, like Dalits, even after conversion. For example, a Dalit may convert to Christianity (a casteless religion) to escape social stigma, but the very fact that the ‘Dalit’ tag stays put even after conversion to a religion that ostensibly does not have or recognise caste divisions shows that conversions do not offer any great dignity in reality.
And, the problem starts when the converts demand the benefits of reservations in education and job, as it happened in Kandhmal, Orissa. Reservations in education and job are based on one’s caste which is peculiar to Hinduism. Naturally, when Hindus living in a particular area give up their religion for a casteless religion, they give up their caste and caste-based reservations as well. So, strictly speaking, they are not entitled to the benefits of reservation as well.
These then are the issues involved behind the violence. Do religions like Christianity have caste systems? No, they do not have caste divisions.
The Christian religious heads have to come clean on this and tell what type of Christianity they are following – a casteised, Hinduised Christianity? If yes, then that goes against everything that Jesus Christ stood for. For, to him a Samaritan was as good as a Jew.
Ideally, religious conversions should be based on one’s personal choice. Conversion to another faith should be encouraged only when one finds the principles of one religion to be better than that of the religion he/she currently belongs to. For example, Hollywood star Richard Gere’s conversion from Christianity to Buddhism was based on faith and not on pecuniary considerations.
While there is nothing wrong in conversions based on an individual’s inner convictions, conversions based on inducements and on false promises of social emancipation should be discouraged. As long as this is not done, what happened in Kandhmal and Mangalore is bound to recur.