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Conversion: A Political Weapon

By Ram Puniyani

06 May, 2008

One has been hearing a lot about the conversion
activities of Christian missionaries. That there is a
threat to Hindu nation due to Adivasis converting to a
'foreign religion' is becoming part of social common
sense. The real face of the conversion came to fore
when after the attack on nuns in Alibaug (March 2008)
was followed by a massive conversion to Hinduism,
Shuddhi ritual (April 27, 2008) in nearby Mumbai. The
person involved in both these has been the same. In
the attack on the Adivasis, the followers of Sadguru
Narendra Maharaj of Ramanandcharya Peeth were involved
and in the elaborate Shuddhi ritual the Guru himself
led the conversion. Talking on the occasion he said
the Hindus are being reduced to a pitiable minority
because of the activities of Christian missionaries.
He also came down heavily on the central Government
for not pushing through the anti conversion bill and
criticized the Maharashtra Government for passing the
anti Superstition bill, according to him both these
steps are anti Hindu.

His claim that Hindus are being reduced to minority is
a stuff of make believe world as demographically
India's Hindu population is fairly stable. The anti
conversion bills which many state Governments have
passed/are passing are totally against several
articles of our constitution. Our constitution
encourages the promotion of rational thought, in
pursuance of which Maharashtra Government has done the
laudable job of passing anti superstition bill. Those
opposing this bill surely want the persistence of
blind faith in society, it is this which strengthens
their social and political clout and Guru is
forthright as far as that is concerned. The same
Guru's followers are adept to violence off and on. In
Alibaug the people had assembled to hear a lecture on
AIDS awareness when his followers assaulted the nuns.

How does one understand the rising incidence of
violence in Adivasi areas? One recalls just around the
Christmas time in 2007, massive violence was unleashed
in Kandhmal and Phulbani districts of Orissa. In most
of the Adivasi areas Dangs, Gujarat, Jhabua Madhya
Pradesh, areas of Orissa, there has been a recurrent
violence. It is these areas which have seen the
conversion of Adivasis into Hindu fold. One must
clarify that Adivasis are Animists, neither Christians
nor Hindus. While some conversions to Christianity
have been occurring they are not new as Christianity
has been here from centuries. These conversions are
due to many reasons, missionaries work in the area of
education and health in particular. In recent times
the overall population of Christians has been
declining marginally (1991-2.60%, 1981-2.44%,
1991-2.34, 2001-2.30%) Part of the conversion surly is
due to some groups amongst Christian missionaries who
do believe in aggressive proselytization.

The Adivasi areas have invited the wrath of RSS
combine from last two decades in particular since
Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, an RSS affiliate intensified
its activities in Adivasi areas. In these areas there
is a vicious anti Christian propaganda leading to
violence. Since this takes place in remote places the
culprits can get away easily, more so with the
complicity of communalized state apparatus. In these
areas various Godmen with RSS affiliation, direct or
indirect, have been either been setting up their
Ashrams or extending their influence, Aseemanand;
Dangs and Lakhhanand in Orissa, Asaram bapu in Jhabua
refion MP, and Narendra Maharaj in Maharashtra.

Usually violence and intimidation is accompanied by
cultural cooption. This latter has been done by
holding huge Hindu Sangams and Shabri kumbhs. Dilip
Singh Judeo, has been doing conversions in Adivasi
areas of Madhya Pradesh. Sanskritzation is also
operative in these conversions to Hinduism. The
process has been called Ghar Vapsi or Shuddhikaran
(purification) on the premise that Adivasis are
Hindus. This is unmindful of the fact that Advasis are
primarily animists and do not fall in the category of
religion as a social phenomenon, as applicable to
Hindus, Muslims, Christians etc.

Adivasis are the most deprived lot of the society and
have been targeted more for political reasons than for
their own welfare. As during the early 1920s, Shuddhi
movement (Hindu Communalism) was unleashed in parallel
to Tanzim (Muslim communalism), now again the Shuddhi
is back. Ghar Vapasi word has been cleverly coined.
While browbeating Christian missionaries for
conversions, the same term for its own activities will
bring in disrepute. So this term, Ghar vapasi;
returning home! The propaganda behind this says that
Adivasis are essentially those Hindus who ran away to
forests to escape the conversions by Muslims kings. In
forests they kept living for long because of which
they kept sliding down on the scale of social
hierarchy. This concoction serves two purposes. One it
feeds into the misconception that Islam spread by
sword and also makes the Adivasi's claim as the
original inhabitants, null and void so the Hindus
nation's claim on the country becomes stronger, as
they can also claim to be its original inhabitants.

The realization that to impose Hindu rashtra in this
country the electoral majority is needed as a starting
point, the process of co-opting Adivasis into Hindu
fold has been stepped up. And this 8% population can
be the wonderful addition to electoral base for the
right wing politics. The second advantage is that by
indoctrinating them they can be unleashed against the
other enemies of Hindu nation, like Muslims, as
witnessed in Gujarat, where they were used as ideal
foot soldiers for the agenda of Hindu Rashtra.

While one has no problems with the peaceful missionary
work of Ramakrishna mission or Christian missionaries
one is aghast at this new phenomenon in our society
whose primary focus is political, though couched in
the language of religion. More human welfare
activities in these areas, more emphasis on human
rights concerns of this marginalized section of
society are what are needed. By emphasizing on blind
faith, by spreading hate against other section of
society, this phenomenon started by the ilk of Gurus
is very dangerous to national Integration.


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