Monday, November 17, 2008

Whom Hindus should blame for conversion?

-Biplab Pal

11/17/2008: Washingtin DC


Recent incidents of ongoing communal riot between Hindus and Christians that resulted in death of more than sixty people in last two months, tarnished the pluralist image of India. We held this sacred image of religious tolerance as our supreme ethos for last two thousands years. Christianity stepped into India with Saint Thomas in first century AD-at a time when Christians were persecuted ruthlessly by the Roman empire . Judaism came to India in 70 AD, soon after they were expelled from their land by Romans. Nathan Katz observes ( Who are the Jews of India) -India is the only country where Jews were neither discriminated nor persecuted. Such tradition of religious tolerance over thousands of years is unmatched in the history of civilization. Magnanimity of Indian civilization radiated from the core philosophy of Sanatan Dharma-Ekam Sat. Reality is everywhere and in every being! Unlike Abrahamic faiths, Sanatan philosophy is not in pursuit of 'perfect belief' but in search of truth accepting personal evolution of individual spiritual quest. The whole idea of Adaitya Vedhanta, at the center of Hinduism, accepts highest level of plurality by Aham Brahman-realization of universal consciousness in individual consciousness in their own way. Therefore, modern Hindu spiritual leader of 19th century, Shri Ramakrishna declared this plurality of Vedanta as Jato Mat Toto Path-as many ways that many paths to realize the truth. In short, this is the true summery of Hinduism-unity in diversity of faiths.

However political reality of India experienced an entirely different version of Hinduism, devoid of enlightenment and encapsulated with casteism supporting Brhamnical supremacy. Question of social identity of lower Sudra caste, who are not considered a Varna( high class) Hindu, happened to be at the root of all communal tension till to date. Hindu epic Ramayan unambiguously promotes casteism and Brahmnical supremacy. However , in Mahabharat, although in Bhagbad Gita, Lord Krishna unabashedly supported casteism, the epic reveals an ambivalence position of casteism in Hindu society. For example, when Ghotakatch, mighty son of Vima, second of Pundav, asked explanation from Krisna-whether he has not been summoned to war because he is not born of a caste Hindu mother and that whether caste Hindu warriors would find it embarrassing to fight with him, a low birth by Hindu caste system, Lord Krishna gracefully replied- caste of a person is not by birth but by his achievement. This seemed to sound a very different note with Pundav's attitude towards mighty "Suta Putra" Karna, who has never been addressed by Pundavas as King of Angada but always by suta-putra (son of Chariot owner) despite Karna exceeded high caste Pundavs in the grace of might and generosity. Based on the numerous evidences in Mahabharat, one but can not fail to see, Hindu's position on castism has always been ambiguous but it was ruthlessly implemented as 'birth based' social system denying the social identity of the working labor class. This ambiguity and sometimes, ruthless denial of human position of lower castes in Hinduism made them vulnerable to conversion. When Islam invaded India, scheduled caste Hindus, specially in Bengal, embraced them as boon against tyranny of Brahmanism. However, Islamic rule didn't create much of a communal tension because majority of Muslim leaders were also supporter of cast based Hindu system and indeed, Indian version of Islam adopted its neo-casteism by attaching their elites to superior ethnicity to distinguish themselves from local low caste Hindu converts. Except for Aurangazeb, who was an Islamic zealot, a very high degree of cohesion between Hindus and Muslims can be found throughout entire Islamic history of India.

When Christian missionaries came to India, they too found their soft targets in scheduled cast Hindus during sixteen and seventeenth century. However, they faced a daunting task of conversion because by then, Hindus were aware, that lower castes may leave Hindu society altogether and therefore waves of reformist movement swept across India to eliminate casteism as a response against egalitarian message of Islam. In Bengal, Shri Chaitanya led the reformist movement through Gauriya Baishnavism where he proudly declared abolition of casteism in fifteenth century. His magic worked among lower class Bengali Hindus who accepted his teaching and mass conversion to Islam virtually came to a full stop. However, effect of casteism was only reduced but never nullified. Nevertheless, success of Christian missionaries in terms of conversion were very limited and they established themselves by social service to common mass. Even today, all the best schools and hospitals in India are run by Christian missionaries. Most of the Hindu elites of today are product of these Missionary schools and none of them would ever complain that these missionary fathers ever made any attempt to convert them. Till Hinduvta movement started swinging in full glory in late 80's , there was no tension between Hindu and Christian community who are almost invisible minority in India. What is then root cause of new wave of communal hatred against each other?

Much of it is hidden in recent rise of Hinduism as aggressive political response to monotheist faiths. Historically Hinduism always responded to Islam or Christianity by reforming its religion. For example, Gauriyo Baishanvism was response to Islam and Brahmo Samaj was Hindu counter response to Christianity. Indeed, in those days, Hindusim took to intellectual and meaningful spiritual response very successfully because it didn't enjoy political power. But this time, since Hinduism is having more political power than ever before, it is stooping to low by responding the problem of conversion politically where need of the hour is to address the problem and isolation of lower caste Hindus who are getting converted because neither they get any social recognition nor any material support by staying in Hinduism. Instead of choosing the most difficult and meaningful path of accommodating vast number of scheduled casts and tribes into the fold of Hinduism by giving them equal social status and material means as Shri Chaintanya did it in fifteenth century, todays' Hindu leaders, devoid of spiritual and intellectual ardor, are more interested in the politics than spiritual quest. They are foxy political leaders who are more after a fortune harvest by playing Holi with bloods of the innocent Christians.

I hear much noise about legal ban on conversion. First of all conversion is a foolish idea and it serves only the purpose of social identity exploited in politics. But question that a caste Hindu must ask first-why even today, position of casteism in Hinduism is as ambiguous as it was during the time of Mahabharata? This simple truth exposes why reformist teaching of Hindu spiritual maestros like Shri Ramakrishna, Vivekananda and Dayananda Sarawati could not change Hinduism when it comes to casteism. Why we don't see any strong denouncement of castism by Hindu organizations? In theory, they do and speak of abolition of casteism but can anybody cite me single example of any Hindu caste leader got his children married to a scheduled tribe? Why they are still apologetic like Lord Krishna and never can come out very clearly rejecting it like Vivekananda who condemned it in the harshest language? How long do they think, these scheduled casts and tribes can be fooled by their empty slogan of equal social status in Hindu hierarchy?

Therefore, need of the hour is for another socio-spiritual reform movement inside Hinduism to abolish caste by encouraging wide-spread inter caste marriage. Though, I am not entirely sure, how many of Hindu zealots, who seem so conscious and worried about conversion game, would comply or encourage marriage of their relatives to scheduled cast and tribes. Gandhiji felt this need at his heart but he too, could not take any affirmative position. Therefore, now it is left to consciousness of Hindu mass to realize that conversion is happening because of their failure to eliminate castism which is aptly exploited with material means by Christian missionaries.