Religious Conversions: A threat to Social Harmony
In any conflict between people or communities the blood that sheds is Red. It is a cliche to repeat that neither side wins as it is humanity that stands to lose. On one level this is an off repeated statement rendered by political pundits & embarrassed politicians at the site of communal strife and destruction. On a deeper level, this statement is a profundity we cannot escape. The fire that feeds this bubbling seething cauldron of egocentric hate & resentment - has to be pacified. And this can be achieved only by pausing to analyse & locate the real causes that lead to communal strife.
A television report depicted the unique situation where in a Gujrati Tribal family, one brother having converted to Christianity desired to bury his dead mother, while the other brother, who had remained bound to his Hindu destiny - desired to cremate the dead parent. A personal situation of choices & beliefs fed the communal flames lurking, forever, seeking possibility to consume all. A full fledged tension between the two religious communities was only inevitable.
This leads us to the question: Why did the Gujrati Hindu tribals get converted to Christianity in Dang village? Some answers are given in the 'Outlook' of Jan'25.1999:- "Budhra Dukhbadia of Subir village converted to Christianity 25 years ago after Padre cured him of a debilitating illness." Similarly, in village Jamalpada, tribal Mohan says, " The Padre prayed for my father and he was healed, so we all converted." This is reminiscent of Sir Thomas Roe, who had cured Mughal emperor Jehangir of some disease. In return, he asked the latter to grant trading rights to East India Company in India, which was immediately granted. This also laid the foundation of the British empire in India. Unlike Jehangir, the tribals were in no position to bestow material favours on the Padre in return for his medical (or magical) skills. Hence the Padre asked them to convert to Christianity as a price for his services.
A report in the same issue of the 'Outlook', mentioned above, says that" In Madhya Pradesh's tribal dominated Surguja district,--Christian tribals are doctors, lawyers and Government servants, while non-christians still struggle for survival." It is easy to explain this phenomenon. The conversion to Christianity opens up to the converts, the vast resources of the 'Church' and opportunities of free or subsidised education in Mission schools, funded profusely by rich Christian nations of Europe and the Americas. This privilege is not available to non-Christians, who have to depend on tardy tribal development schemes of fund-starved govarnment of India and mercy of a corrupt bureaucracy. Economic inequalities between tribal Christians and non-Christians is the direct cause of social conflict between the two. It is a conflict between 'haves' and 'have - nots'.
Proselytisation is integral to Christianity. Conversion of others to their faith is alien to Hindu ethos, but in late 19th Century as a reaction to conversions by Christians and Muslims, Arya Samaj took to proselytising activity. But it did not match the sweep and intensity of the Christianity and Islam. Orthodox Hindus did not accept the converted people in their fold easily; hence, Hindu proselytising activity always remained feeble and sporadic.
The question arises-why does proselytisation remain an important objective of Christians since its very inception? Why does the belief system of Hindus not dictate the conversion of others to their religion?
One would seek the conversion of a person to his own religion, only if he believes fervently that his religion is superior to that of the other. The feeling of superiority of one's own religion may not be sufficient to egg on him to seek conversion of others. But when the feeling of superiority gets mixed with sneer and contempt for others' religion, the resultant concoction is deadly. The proselytising zeal gets multiplied manifold.
Contempt of religions of others in Christianity is most succinctly expressed when Jesus says that 'aI/ that ever came before me (Prophets) are thieves and robbers" (John 10:8). Like most people in India, I too had believed that Christianity is embodiment of love and compassion. But when I went through the Bible, I was shocked to know that it was much more and much different from Christ's sayings to put forward the other cheek when slapped. As a Hindu, in whose psyche respect of other's religion had been hammered into since childhood, I found it impossible to believe that such intemperate language was used by Jesus Christ! But after going through the history of Christianity, its destruction of pagan temples allover Europe and the bloody massacre of natives in South America by Christian 'Conquistadors', I could make out what had prompted them to perpetrate such horrors on mankind. They were simply translating into action the utter contempt that Jesus had for other prophets.
The self-righteous aggressiveness of Christianity, again springs from their belief that they alone have the monopoly over truth and revelation At the root of the belief that Christianity alone represented truth and others will be condemned, is the Bible, and utterances of Jesus himself. Jesus had said-"I am the way-yes, the truth and life. No one can get to the father except by means of me" (John 14:6). This is a declaration in unambiguous terms that no other path can lead to God, except the Christianity. It is a declaration of superiority of Christianity over other religions, as also their condemnation. It is therefore not surprising that these ideas became central to the Church, during the last 2000 years.
A minor incident narrated in New Testament is as follows:
" ... a woman came ... and pled with him (Jesus) to release her child from the demon's control (But she was a syrophoenician-"a despised Gentile!")
Jesus told her: First, I should help my own family-the Jews. It is'nt right to take children's food and throw it to dogs.
She replied, That's true, Sir, but even the puppies under the table are given scraps from children's plates".
'Good!' he said', you have answered well-so well that I have healed your little daughter. "
Mark 7 : 25-29
The claim of exclusivism of the Christianity can be traced to this episode. Jesus bared his contempt and hatred for non-Jews, when he figuratively described the child of a foreigner as a 'dog'. No wonder that Christianity has the same degree of low opinion and despise for non-Christians.
Jesus was a Jew; he had inherited the Jewish beliefs and thoughts, which he passed on to his followers. For most Christians, old testament is their holy book. The self-righteousness backed by aggressive violence, that is seen in most Christian nations, is surely a Jewish legacy obtained through Old Testament, some examples of which are given below:
Exodous, Chapter 32
3. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
4. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
5. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.
19. And it came to pass, as soon as he came nigh unto the camp, that he saw the calf, and the dancing: and Moses'anger waxed hot, and the cast the tables out of his hands and brake them beneath the mount.
20. And he took the calf which they had made, and burnt it in the fire, and ground it powder, and strawed it upon the water, and made the children of Israel drink of it.
Exodous, Chapter 34
13. But ye shall destroy their altars, break their images, and cut down their groves:
Numbers, Chapter 15
32. And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the sabbath day.
35. And the LORD Said unto Moses, The man shall be surely put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp.
36. And all the congregation brought him without the camp, and stoned him with stones, and he died; as the LORD commanded Moses.
Exodous, Chapter 31
17. Now therefore kill every male among the the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.
18. But a/l the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.
Deuternomy, Chapter 13
6. If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers;
8. Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him:
9. But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death and afterwards the hand of all the people.
Deuternomy, Chapter 20
13. And when the LORD thy God hath delivered it into thine hands, thou shalt smite every male thereof with the edge of the sword:
14. But the women, and the little ones, and the cattle, and all that is in the city, even all the spoil there of, shalt thou take unto thyself; and thou shalt eat the spoil of thine enemies, which the LORD thy God hath given thee.
Deuternomy, Chapter 32
21. They have moved me to jealousy with that which is not God;
24. They shall be burnt with hunger, and devoured with burning heat, and with bitter destruction: I will also send the teeth of beasts upon them, with the poison of serpents of the dust.
25. The sword without, and terror within, shall destroy both the young man and the virgin, the suckling also with the man of grey hairs.
These quotations from the Holy Bible do not need further elucidation. These are self-explanatory. How can one reconcile to the advice of the God of Bible to kill all men and married women and to "keep alive for yourselves" all young unmarried women.
The God of Bible gives specific orders to it's followers that if their brothers, sons, and daughters get converted to some other religion, it is their duty to kill them. Surprisingly, the same God wants followers of other religions to get converted to 'His'religion. Thus, for Christianity, conversion is a one way traffic; from non-Christians to Christianity, but never the other way round.
Inspired by the tenets of Bible, kings and clergy, all through the Christian history, have exerted to convert people and spread Christianity. There was always a united front of Christian kings and clergy; the two acted in unison for the same goal. The kings aimed at conquering territories, while the clergy targetted the people, living there, for conversion. In the domains, subjugated by Christian armies, the clergy followed to conquer the souls. Whichever country was explored and opened up by the missionaries, the Christian armies soon reached there. Commenting on this unholy alliance of ecclesiastical and temporal, the respected leader of Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta had told the missionaries. "When you came we held the land and you had the Bible, and now you hold the land and we the Bible."
Along with the subjugation of India by the East India Company, there came the Christian mission seeking to evangelise the Indians. Clergy was not alone. It had full support and backing of the East India Company. Macaulay, father of English education in India, had pleaded for teaching English to Indians with the ultimate objective of converting them to Christianity. "Writing to his father in 1836 Macaulay said that it was his firm belief that, if plans for English education were followed up, there would not be a single idolator among the respectable class in Bengal, thirty years hence. This would be affected without any effort to proselytise, without the smallest interference with religious liberty, merely by natural operation and reflection.
It was again only to denigrate Hinduism and as facilitator to conversion of Hindus to Christianity, that Max Muller was assigned to translate Vedas into the English language. His views about India and Hinduism are best summarised in the following well known passage written by him, "I do not shrink from saying that their religion (Hinduism) is dying or dead. And why? Because it cannot stand the light of day. The worship of Siva, Vishnu and other popular deities, is of the same, nay, in many cases of a more degraded and savage character than the worship of Jupiter, Appolo and Minerva; It belongs to a stratum of thought, which is long buried beneath our feet. ***It is the missionary character, peculiar to these three religions - Buddhism, Mohamedanism and Christianity, which binds them together and lifts them to a higher plane (than Hinduism)." Thus, according to Max Muller, missionary activity is of utmost importance and central to church and Christianity.
Before 1857, the proselytising activity of the church, backed by British officers of the East India Company was overtly aggressive. The revolt of 1857 was ignited by the company's policy of insensitivity towards Hindus and Muslims. It thoroughly chastised and traumatised the British, who were compelled to revise their policy of evangelising persued by the church. In queen Victoria's proclamation of 1858, the Indians were assured of full freedom to follow their religion. It was a rebuff for the church.
Denied of the patronage of the British government as before, the church changed it's tactics. Instead of frontal attack on Hinduism and Islam, it decided to put on a mask of service, compassion and financial assistance to beguile Indians.
Seeking conversion to Christianity, is a global enterprise of the church. David Barret and James W. Reapsome write in their book 'Seven hundred plans to evangelise the world', that it cost "$ 145 b (Rupees five lacs eighty thousand crores) to operate global Christianity." It has reportedly 4.1 million full time Christian workers; runs 13,000 major libraries; publishes 22,000 periodicals and operates 1,800 Christian radio/T.V. stations. Backed by such enormous organisation, missionaries remain undaunted in their activities, even after the British have left this country. "A Catholic church publication titled 'Catholic Dharm ka pracharak' (1956) gives the tip (of an iceberg) to their missionaries: To gain access to non-christian households, the preacher should know something about the illness in the house. Once there, he should prevail upon the parents that he should be allowed to baptise the child as the baptism will aid the recovery of the child." Missionaries have all along resorted to such stratagems, to gain converts, which by no means can be termed as descent or honourable.
The Neyogi committee report (REPORT OF THE CHRISTIAN MISSIONARIES ENQUIRY COMMITTEE, Madhya Pradesh,1956) has recorded in details such maneovers, designed to deceive illiterate tribals and others with a view to convert them to Christianity. The Committee refers to cases of illegitimate methods adopted by the missionaries to secure conversions, "Such as offering allurements of free education and other facilities to children attending their schools, adding some Christian names to their original Indian names, marriages with Christian girls, money-lending, distrbuting Christian literature in hospitals and offering prayers in the wards of indoor patients. *** Practice of Roman Catholic priests or preachers visiting new born babies to give blessings in the name of Jesus, taking sides in litigations or domestic quarrels, kidnapping of minors and abduction of women, etc."
Swami Vivekananda had condemned the Christian missionaries in strongest words. Even Mahatma Gandhi had no good words for them. In 'Harijan' of May 11, 1935, he had written, " If I have a way to make laws, I will definitely ban religious conversions." On another occasion he had said, "Proselytisation is the deadliest poison that ever sapped the foundation of truth."
Whereas proselytisation constitutes the core of Christianity, it is only peripheral to Hinduism. Hinduism believes that just as all rivers reach the ocean, all religions lead to God. Under this belief system, Hinduism does not claim exclusive monopoly of truth and revelation. For Hindus, all religions are valid. This inculcates a sense of respect for other religions. The condemnation of those, who follow a different religion, is beyond the comprehension of Hindu mind. It is for this reason that Hindus had never sought conversion to their religion till only a hundred years ago.
Every action has an equal and opposite reaction - is a law of Physics, that is applicable universally, even to social and religious institutions. As a reaction to Islamic and Christian proselytising activities, Hindus are being increasingly Semitised. They have imbibed semitic practice of seeking converts to their religion from other religions and Moses' law that prescribes 'An eye for an eye.' In such a situation, academically speaking, spontaneous violent reaction of non-christian tribals to missionaries is a predictable possibility.
True to the arrogant exclusivism and aggressive righteousness of Christianity, the Christian tribals threw stones on the procession of non-christians on 25th December in South Gujarat, that sparked off the riots. It is to the credit of non-christian tribals that they did not pick up the first stone. Whoever and whenever picks up the first stone would always be regarded as guilty. He would also be held guilty for the crimes that may be comitted by the other party in retaliation.
It is vital that social harmony be maintained at all cost. If, proselytising activity of the church, backed by the economic power of Christian nations has the potential of disturbing public peace, it should be stopped. This is what, C. Rajagopalachary had written to a foreign missionary, "I think, it is not desirable to make any effort at proslytism. I feel, that such efforts undermine the present faith of the people, which is good enough to promote right conduct in them and to deter them from sin. They tend to destroy family and social harmony, which is not a good thing to do."