Thursday, December 25, 2014

The False protests on Conversions in India: An investigation

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

The Indian Press is making a lot of noise on "Conversions" in parts of North India. Though the BJP has no role in the policy of bringing back to the Hindu faith those who were "converted" to other faiths over the course of the past several centuries, the Opposition, particularly the Congress has been disrupting the Parliament demanding a Statement from the Hon'ble Prime Minister. The Television Anchors are having a whale of a time, thundering about the "religious freedoms" enshrined in the document of political settlement issued in 1950. Let us examine the truth of what is happening.

Christianity emerged in Asia at a time when the Roman Empire was at the height of its power and strength. As St Augustine writes in his City of God the birth of the Saviour in a corner of the Roman Empire made the religion aspire for a universality that other religions, particularly the many gods and semi divine characters of the Roman public religion lacked. To be a Christian in the Roman world as Peter Brown and other historians have pointed out was to reject the political entity called the Roman Empire, the earthly city of Augustine and this life was only a transition to the Heavenly City where the Lord reigns forever. Constantine in 324 made Christianity the official religion and thereby a persecuted faith became the official religion. Conversion the context of Christianity was a change in world view, the understanding of life, nature and of course the relationship with God  who sent his Son as our Saviour. The Passion of Christ and His Resurrection on the third day is the proof of God's intervention in history. The acceptance of the three central premises of Christianity is Conversio, the transformation, the inward illumination.

In India, however, the " conversion" has usually been on the basis of identity. Lower castes were induced to "convert" by economic and other inducements and though there have been several instances of sincere and well thought out "conversions" most of the converts regarded Christianity as yet another caste of Hinduism. And in the blatant embrace of identity politics due to the numerical democracy which is followed in India, conversion only meant creation of minority pockets for electoral gain. There is nothing religious and spiritual about this. And the storm over conversion is misplaced and most of the converts do not understand even the elementary aspects of the faith they were induced to join for identity reasons.

The Church in India did little to help the entrants from the lower castes. In Tamil Nadu that I know well, high caste parish priests do not perform the sacraments for the lower casts particularly the "pariah" christians. In Villupuram the untouchable Christians have even complained that the Church graveyard is segregated. I am not giving a litany of complaints to undermine the faith. I am only saying that conversion is a personal and inward transformation and public embrace of Christianity does little to change the ground realities.

The controversy over "conversions" or Ghar Vapsi, Home Coming as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad calls it is totally misplaced and the agents of vote blocks alone are affected not the poor.

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