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T C A Srinivasa-Raghavan: 'The fault lies within us'

Devoted Hindus should worry about why through the ages people have abandoned Hinduism

T C A Srinivasa-Raghavan 

T C A Srinivasa-Raghavan

Why is everyone so worked up over the conversion of 200-odd dirt poor Muslims in the slums of Agra to Hinduism?

Why was there no indignation when a much larger number of Hindus adopted Christianity in some other states?

Would there be similar consternation if it was a Hindu-Buddhism or Hindu-Jain matter?

Would anyone have even noticed if the Bharatiya Janata Party-Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh combine had not been in power?

Drawing rooms all over India are full of these questions after some Muslims were "re-converted" to Hinduism, whatever that means.

After all, we must not forget that many Hindus believe you have to be born a Hindu to be one.

A small minority believes that it is enough to practise Hindu rituals to be a Hindu. For the majority, it doesn't matter a whit.

One way or another, there is no consensus on conversion to Hinduism, which suggests that, from a purely religious point of view, these conversions are meaningless.

They are, in fact, intended by the organisers to make a political point, which explains why non-National Democratic Alliance political parties are so agitated. They spent a whole day on Thursday debating the issue in Parliament.

Needless to say, nothing useful emerged from it.

Indeed, the only sensible thing about it was said by Subramanian Swamy, a very insistent Hindutva activist. He tweeted that a "Law to completely ban religious conversion is unconstitutional. But induced conversion ban is ok. Such a law would require a de-conversion clause."

Which century are we living in?

A long history
The first major conversions away from Brahminical Hinduism happened about 550 years before the Christian era began.

Those converts were largely from the merchant class. They became Buddhists in order to free themselves from the exactions of Brahmins and their rituals.

The second phase of conversions happened from 7th century onwards when Arab traders came to Malabar.

These were peaceful conversions to Islam and not mass conversions. Many of them happened because the Arab traders married Indian women.

At about the same time, another set of peaceful conversions was happening there - to Christianity. These were also not mass conversions.

The next phase began - this time accompanied by violence - with the Muslim invasions of North India in the 12th century.

To the extent that India's historical memory is shaped by what has happened in north and central India and, given the way in which the invaders behaved, the current Hindu attitude is largely governed by that memory.

Even so, conversions to Islam were not very significant in number until Akbar's reign.

His territorial conquests, however, required a huge Army, which needed supplies of all kinds.

Then a Mughal version of the latter-day public sector purchase preference policy came into play. Result: it became profitable for small businessmen to become a Muslim, even if only in name.

Most of these converts belonged to the artisan classes - makers of clothes, shoes, stirrups, saddles, swords and so on.

Preferential buying from them by the mansabdars stoked resentment among those who chose not to convert and lost business. That resentment seems to have been cast in stone.

After a period of quiet that lasted more than a 100 years, towards the end of his long reign Aurangzeb started discriminating against the Hindus, sometimes with "extreme prejudice".

This again led to large-scale conversions, this time out of fear.

The next wave came with the advent of Sikhism in the 17th and 18th centuries when, once again, a very large number of Hindus abandoned their religion to embrace another, one that was kinder and more egalitarian.

Then, in the 19th century after control passed to the British crown in 1860, a large number of Christian priests came and began conversions.

It was mostly Hindus and tribal people who converted. But the numbers were still quite small, relatively speaking.

In the 20th century, American Christian organisations also entered the conversion scene, especially in the north-east.

The real question
Hindus are the only religious group at which conversions to other religions have been aimed. Why do so many people who are born Hindus choose to convert for a mess of pottage?

This is something that the protagonists of Hindutva need to think about. Should these conversions become a political issue or should they lead Hinduism's spiritual leaders to attempt a serious analysis of why so many Hindus opt for other religions, when among the hardest things to abandon is the religion you are born into? People don't do that unless the new one offers equality.

For example, how many of them have spoken out against the caste system? Why has that been left to political leaders?

Haec inquitas est in nobis - the fault lies within us.

First Published: Sat, December 13 2014. 21:46 IST