Half a decade ago, I was a student and a social worker. Once when a few of us friends were coming back from a Paathshala in Rohini, Delhi, we saw two young white gentlemen distributing candies to kids. Soon, they were not only surrounded by kids but by their parents too. Kids got Candy, adults got a pamphlet pointing them towards true light. We approached them and that was followed by a weekly debate on why they consider Christianity the only true path and why I was a heathen who was in dire need of some guidance.
It all started when 50 odd Muslim families were brought back to the Hindu fold by VHP in a function curiously named “Ghar wapasi”. Media has termed it ‘saffron surge’, ‘VHP back’, ‘Radicals not at fringe anymore’, and whatnot. I find it strange.
For a thousand years, our country has seen religious conversion in one form or the other. It was mostly forceful before independence, where we could find gut-wrenching genocides committed by Islamic invaders in Northern India, Portuguese in Goa, or a massive thrust is given to evangelicals in British-controlled India. Post Independence, with the tacit support of successive governments, India has continued to be big on the radar of people and religious groups who want more people in their fold. Why one set of people would want their number to grow is anybody’s guess. I am yet to find a good reason for it apart from the fact that a few religious texts call it their sacred duty to help people see the true light through their religion. What I know for sure is that religious proselytization is harmful to the unity and sovereignty of our nation.
In the colonial times, when Missionaries were rampant in China, a popular slogan doing rounds was, “One Christian more, one Chinese less”. We have seen the Christian population explode in the northeastern states. From being around 1% of the population to be the majority population in the span of a few decades is an achievement of sorts. Firstly, it’s not a natural movement. Every few days some functionary from the corporate church comes in and organizes magnificent rallies, functions, and shows with glitz rivaling that of Bollywood in some part of India. The sole purpose of these events is to highlight how divine it is to be Christian and what are the benefits that one gets if he is Christian. Everything from magical healing to job offers and study benefits is showcased. In the coastal areas, poor fishermen are given fishing nets to fishing boats if they become Christian. Why stop at that, all the major Christian colleges and institutes including St. Stephens of Delhi university, give a substantial reservation to anybody who is a Christian. In a society where your ability is judged by the stamp on your degree, it is a game-changer. On one hand, where intellectuals and civil society talk about doing away with the entire gamut of reservation, this double standard by elite organizations flies strictly under the radar.
NSCN (IM), a terrorist organization has the slogan “Nagaland for Christ”. From 2004 onwards, there is an ongoing diktat to convert Buddhists to Christianity. I am yet to see a decent media report over it. Not to mention Shri Shri 108 Arnab Goswami jee Maharaj or any of his brethren shouting his lungs out.
Why have we not seen any debates on the usage of Indian symbolism by Missionaries? Go to Jharkhand and you will find statues of Mother Mary in typical red and white tribal saree, with tribal Baby Jesus in her arms. In Mumbai, you will find mass Keertans in Ganpati aarti style on main roads. Now we can debate all we want to about God being God in whatever form he takes, truth is, these gods are dressed so that it is easier for Missionaries to explain that they are not outsiders. In Delhi, I stumbled into a Church in Kalkajee during those days. I was asked to remove shoes outside. And imagine my astonishment when I saw mostly poor women with saaree draped around their heads doing typical Bhajan Keertan in completely Hindu attire. That includes Deeya, agarbatti, Prasad, and the entire shindig.
Point is, an ordinary middle-class person’s real contact with poverty is limited to his/her maid, driver, or beggars on a traffic signal. There are many who are poorer than these. Once you establish contact with them, you will realize the extent of proselytization which India faces on a day to day basis. While there may be many who convert because of their faith, the number is minuscule. The vast majority of converts are people who are so naive that they wouldn’t know the sun from the moon. Believe it or not, there are people who have converted just so that their children could get medical care.
Not that Hindu organizations have not retaliated back. They have been trying to reconvert the converted for a long time. But due to the tabooed tag of saffron communalism and lack of widespread awakening of the largely secular Hindu society, they have been unsuccessful. This image shows a newspaper report of a Ghar Wapsi in UP last year when BJP was nowhere near power. Makes me wonder if the entire brouhaha is orchestrated to stop the parliament from functioning where the government wants to pass a lot of key reforms essential for giving it credibility in people’s eyes. Rajya Sabha has been completely paralyzed on this issue since last week. Have the opposition parties suddenly woken up to this menace?
Religion is a very touchy subject in our country. When I write this, I am sure to be misunderstood by many of my Christian and Muslim friends who are far better human beings than I am. But religion has to be strictly personal. When billions of dollars are funneled in the nation just to coax, coerce and lure the poor into their fold, I am forced to think of it as a systematic attack on the secular, inclusive and moral fabric of India. A 2012 Home Ministry report revealed that major donors from abroad and receivers in India are Christian Missionaries and Church-sponsored NGOs. The four largest donors are all evangelical Christian organizations who have a professed goal to convert people to Christianity. The list of foreign donors is topped by the Gospel For Asia Inc of the USA (Rs232.71 crore) followed by Fundacion Vicente Ferrer, Barcelona, Spain (Rs228.60 crore), the World Vision Global Centre of the USA (Rs197.62 crore) followed by Compassion International of US, (Rs131.57 crore).
Muslim fundamentalists and fraud Hindu babas are not as refined. They rely on crude tactics and end up getting media attention. I shall not get into the statistical details of how many converts are there from religion A and B and what is their standing when compared to religion C. In my opinion, there are only two ways to approach this topic. If conversion has been allowed till now and none of the media houses shouted against it, they have no right to shout against VHP/RSS lead conversion campaign. Or, if the conversion is bad, it is supposed to be equally bad regardless of religion. Two yardsticks cannot be used to measure the same thing. Our intellectuals need to choose one and stick to it. Please keep in mind that I am okay with both. But I cannot tolerate this blatant hypocrisy in the name of phony secularism.