Monday, October 27, 2008

Religious conversions in India I

Many Indian Hindus detest religious conversions. Their disapproval comes in various degrees. Some oppose it in principle and may not take any action against it, while some people, on the other side of the spectrum, feel obligated to kill people who resort to such conversions, demolish and ransack the places of worship of other religions, and rape some nuns in the process.

Some so called learned experts, donning the robe of being secular-yet-concerned pundits, tell us that religious conversions create an unnatural imbalance in the otherwise harmonious and natural order of things. ‘Why should they change the balance? Why should they disrupt the order?’ they contest disapproving the conversions.

Some other eco-friendly and tribal loving Hindus fight on behalf of the innocent and cuddly poor and wretched people Hindus who get lured into conversion by these wily priests. They ask, ‘these innocent nature-loving people do not know anything better. It’s so wrong to convert people by giving them bribes which these people don’t really need’. According to them these adult Indians are easily conned into conversions by mere trinkets such as access to place of worship, schools and medicine.

Some other Indian Hindus are not that patient. They don’t like to lose some of their kin to other religion – plain and simple. Of course, they wouldn’t do anything to uplift them – actually they go on to protest against giving reservations to these wretched low caste people, but at the same time they would protest vehemently when some other religious folks descend down on the slums, the huts and shanties to give them better amenities. For them its sheer numbers game. Losing some of their numbers to the other side is intolerable.

All in all, most Indian Hindus feel victimized when it comes to matters of religious conversions. Hinduism as a religion in modern times does not give overtly any provisions to convert other people. In fact, Brahmanism which bears the torch for rest of Hinduism has come to detest people of other religions in tune with how most of its lower castes are treated. The word ‘pollution’ seems to dominate the psyche of Hinduism. And therefore any attempt to embrace people of other kinds, especially the lower kind, is seen as a polluting influence. In fact, entire Indian history can be summed up by two words – thwarting pollution.

The gamut of Indian traditions can be explained as - If you do that you get polluted, and this is what you have to do to get de-polluted. The other words for ‘pollution’ are ‘desecration’, ‘sin (paap)’, ‘impure (ashuddh)’, etc. One loses caste very easily by involving in acts of pollution. If you touch a Dalit, you get polluted, and you have to pay a priest to conduct certain rituals to de-pollute yourself. Restricting Dalits out of the village, keeping lower castes out of schools, not allowing menstruating women in temples, not going to temples when you have eaten meat, not touching people with feet, and many other Indian traditions or habits emanate from one single mandate- not to pollute oneself!

For most Hindus, including some Indian Hindu scientists, casteism has a constructive role to play in mankind, just like one commenter on this blog suggested how eve-teasing, molestation and moral policing helps Indians in avoiding teenage pregnancies. These Hindus come up with various theories, which Indians are good at in conjuring up where necessary, to justify the age-old casteism that subjugated hundreds of generations of majority of Indians into servitude, bondage and abject poverty.

Hinduism in practice is nothing by casteism with huge paraphernalia of rituals and customs to protect the purity of those castes. Do this with right hand, not with left hand; keep your foot here not there; pour rice five times not three times; don’t touch this with your feet, are all set of rituals that keep you pure and chaste.

And casteism’s fundamental objective is to protect oneself from pollution. Most Hindus fear getting polluted – and there are zillions of innocuous things one can do that to make him impure. The village Brahmin keeps the key to all the rituals that one has to perform to wash off those zillion sinful things one can do.

Indian Hindu has constantly worried over losing his caste status and has stopped oneself from doing many things – that could be one of the major reasons why Indians did not innovate, discover or invent anything significant in the last thousand years. Even the great First War of Independence of 1857 started off out of a fear of losing one’s caste when the caste Hindus had to chew on cow’s fat to load their rifles. Gandhi feared going to England to study because he thought he would lose his caste.

‘Mixing’ is the highest form of pollution. Mixing with another caste can directly lead to losing one’s caste. And hence you will see major restrictions in Hinduism against inter-caste marriages. People have gone onto bloody riots to kill each other to defend their caste from getting polluted by mixing. For many centuries, before Muslims and Christians became enemies of Hindus, different castes were fighting each other whenever there was a sign of ‘mixing’ of castes by romantic men and women who dared to cross caste boundaries to venture into the other.

Even in modern India, parents disown kids who marry out of caste. In many towns and villages of South India, a kid is asked his caste before given permission to enter the house. Kids in those towns and villages make friends with similar status castes and not with lower castes.

‘To mix’ is to make it impure, to pollute it. We are so obsessed with keeping our castes separate, our lineage separate and chaste, that one young lady, without thinking much said, ‘Why are we bent on polluting esteemed institutions like IITs by providing reservations to lower castes?’ Keeping our bloodline pure and preserving the sanctity of one’s race comes naturally for most Indians and that’s also the reason why Aryan supremacy theories gel with Indians, and also the reason why Adolf Hitler is admired.

Moving between castes is another major problem for Hinduism. Moving from one caste to another is forbidden. If you are born to a Blacksmith, all your future generations for eternity should practice that. And any attempt to move your caste is strictly restricted unless of course you happen to be the king.

The same philosophy is extended to any attempt to embrace Muslims and Christians. It is very important for spread of Hinduism to assign a caste to incoming people. If for some reason, the demands of incoming people are not in tune with the mandate of Hindus in terms of which caste they will be assigned, then they are not allowed in.

Most Hindus conveniently believe that they do not impose their religion onto others- and it is true that the current day Hindus priests or protagonists do not make any attempt to convert people of other religions. Hence, Indian Hindus see the ongoing religious conversions as a one-side exercise where their numbers tend to deplete while those of other religions seem to increase. They constantly worry how other religions are swelling their ranks and how, very soon, this nation will be mostly Muslim or Christian, and how Hindus will be once again marginalized in their ‘own country’.

[Continued …]


  1. May the kind light of Diwali festivities remove the darkness of despair and bring hope to E=mc^2 readers!

    - Barack, Michelle, Malia and Sasha!

    PS: I was referred to as "someone" by Sujai in one of the posts two years ago when I was a total unknown figure in the world :-). Hope Sujai would become hopeful again in this new hindu calendar year.

  2. Sujai...Its a wonderful post and everything is so true.


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