Recent incidents of violence and vandalism against Christians and their churches deserve to be condemned unreservedly. They have blackened the fair face of Mother India and ruined the reputation of Hindus being the most religiously tolerant people in the world. At the same time, we must take a closer look at people who convert from one faith to another. To start with, let it be understood that these days there are no forced conversions anywhere in the world. India is no exception. Those who assert that the poor, innocent and ignorant of India are being forced to accept Christianity are blatant liars. A few, very few educated and well-to-do men and women convert to another faith when they do not find solace in the faith of their ancestors. Examples are to be found in America and Europe of men and women of substance turning from Judaism and Christianity to Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Sikhism.
There are also men and women who convert to the faith of those they wish to marry. We have plenty of cases of Hindu, Muslim, Christian and Sikh inter-marriages. However, the largest number of converts come from communities discriminated against. The outstanding example was that of Dalit leader Bhimrao Ambedkar who led his Mahar community to embrace Buddhism because they were discriminated against by upper caste Hindus. This is also true of over 90 per cent of Indian Muslims whose ancestors being lower caste embraced Islam which gave them equal status. That gives lie to the often-repeated slander that Islam made converts by the sword.
An equally large number of people converted out of gratitude. They were neglected, ignorant and poor. When strangers came to look after them, opened schools and hospitals for them, taught them, healed them and helped them to stand on their own feet to hold their heads high, they felt grateful towards their benefactors. Most of them were Christian missionaries who worked in remote villages and brought hope to the lives of people who were deprived of hope.
To this day, Christian missionaries run the best schools, colleges and hospitals in our country. They are inexpensive and free of corruption. They get converts because of the sense of gratitude they generate. Can this be called forcible conversion? Why don’t the great champions of Hinduism look within their hearts and find out why so many are disenchanted by their pretensions of piety? Let them first set their own houses in order, purge the caste system out of Hindu society and welcome with open arms all those who wish to join them. No one will then convert from Hinduism to another religion.
Saturday, October 4, 2008
[mukto-mona] Khushwant Singh: Conversion business