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Conversions and Hinduism

“Religion is not like a house or a cloak, which can be changed at will.”

  “There is no religion that is founded on intolerance – and no religion that does not value the sanctity of human life.”  Mohamed El Baradei

“We remember the wisdom of Gandhi…that different religions are beautiful flowers from the same garden… branches of the same majestic tree.”   President Obama

“India will succeed so long as it is not splintered on religious lines.” Barack Obama

Introduction – Recent Peshawar gruesome and brutal terror attacks on Sainik school children on 16th of Dec. 2014, by Talibans, killing 148 people, including 132 innocent school children and injuring many and another one French on satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo “as revenge for the honour” of Prophet Muhammad, and belief that those ‘others’ deserve to be punished, has shocked the whole world.  People and the governments of various nations once again resolved to continue war against terrorism till the last terrorist is eliminated. 

Shallow understanding of a religion leads to fundamentalism –Stern religious approach confronts directly with secular values. Usually shallow understanding of a religion and its ideologies leads to fundamentalism. In turn, fundamentalism leads people believe that their sufferings derives from ‘others’, therefore, it is a crime that offended humanity. Lakhvi, the brain behind these killings and main architect of 26/11 is reported to be saying, “You are Muslims. You have to get rid of poverty. Look at India. They have raced ahead of us. You have to wage ‘Jihad against India. ( P. 1, TOI, 19.12 2014)  Al-Quida in Arabian Peninsula warns of more attacks “if they did not stop abusing Muslims.” (TOI, 11.1.2015, p.1) As President Obama has said during his visit to India in 2015, “We remember the wisdom of Gandhi….  that different religions are beautiful flowers from the same garden… branches of the same majestic tree.”  (Quoted from TOI, January 28,2015, P.1)                 

Rise of scientific temper after Renaissance  – Religion played a crucial role at individual, social and political level during ancient and medieval societies. At that time, religion justified inequality and discrimination prevalent in political and social arena. During 14th-15th centuries, known as period of Renaissance, the spread of education and awareness rose scientific temper and wider broadened people’s vision.  With awareness and rational thinking, blind faith in religion gradually declined. Its influence in political and social areas, especially over state authorities and social etiquettes lessened. And now in modern societies, discriminatory or unequal treatment in social, political, economic life of people belonging to different race, religion or caste is now being regarded as inhuman and scientifically wrong.

More dependence on religion because of complexities of modern life – However, in the individual life, people’s dependence on religion is increasing day by day. The cult of nucleus families due to near absence of family support has made modern life stressful. Family support systems of traditional societies, which were earlier giving solid moral and physical support to people, had almost vanished. Workload on each family has increased tremendously. Sectarian and regional imbalances are adding fuel into fire, increasing social and psychological tensions. In such an atmosphere, dependence on religion gives them some solace.

Rigid attitude towards religion leads to fundamentalism – Sometimes, too much dependence on religion for getting moral support and inner strength to face complexities of modern life pushes persons towards rigidity and religious fundamentalism. Situation becomes worse, when religious ideologies get political support. Many political institutions almost in all the nations are inciting religious feelings of masses. They indirectly support communal activities of such sectional forces and pressures groups, which are more vocal and aggressive in attitude.

Religion above everything else for a Fundamentalist – Fundamentalist attitude places one’s own religion above everything else, even above the nation. Priests/leaders usually exercise control over the behavior of masses. It is easier for religious gurus to mobilize their followers more successfully than others and force them to observe different kind of inflexible rules, rituals, terms and conditions without raising a voice. Counter argument/opposition is just not tolerated. They justify on the basis of religious ideologies all rational or irrational behaviour/activities of their followers. The strength of religious gurus comes from populism.

Divide and rule – A handful of Individuals and their groups, having money or muscle power desire to control destiny of millions  of their followers in the name of religion and have a say in almost every walk of their life. In their ambition to exercise authority over them, they follow the dictum of ‘divide and rule’. It is easier for them to divide people along communal lines rather than to solve people’s real problems and earn their respect. Attempts of such people to serve sectional interests have made a virtue of narrow loyalties of community  and religion. It has generated violence, intolerance for other communities, aggressive attitude etc. In turn it leads to terrorist activities killing thousands of innocent people

Rejection of knowledge and greed for power at the base of fundamentalism – If religious fundamentalism and differences in opinion are allowed to rise in the society, real issues will take a back-seat and the progress of nation would be adversely affected and would ultimately people  towards crimes, violence and bloodshed. At present, on one hand, some communities are really backwards in matter of modern callings, as their religious fundamentalism tends them to reject modern education. Rejection of any form of knowledge based on science and reason leads to loss of scientific temper, ignorance and inability to fight for their human rights. On the other hand, greed of many religious gurus and Messiahs would drain out much of nation’s wealth to foreign land and left millions of people bleeding from poverty.

Rekindle spirit of tolerance – How to bring back communal harmony and the spirit of tolerance once again- is the most important task for the all the communities of the day. The advice of two emperors in Indian history – Asoka and Akbar in this matter of religion is quite relevant even today. Asoka in his rock edict proclaimed: ‘One who reverences one’s own religion and disparages that of another… does injury to one’s own religion.’ Centuries later, Akbar affirmed: “The various religious communities are divine treasures entrusted to us by God. We must love them as such. It should be our firm faith that every religion is blessed by Him.’

Hinduism – Famous historian Don Martindale says that Hinduism succeeded in wielding an enormously varied plurality of semi-autonomous communities arising at many times and in many places and adopting themselves to many different conditions into a single system of society(Don Martindale, India since 1947, p 39). It does not believe in conversions or re-conversions. It believes in assimilation – ‘accept others as they are’.

Communal harmony crucial for India – Communal harmony is very crucial for a country like India keeping in mind its wide diversity.  No religion supports hatred or violence or use of force. Those who resort to it in the name of religion are doing injustice to their own faith and humanity at large. While having faith in ones own religion, equally important for communal harmony is to accept other religions as valid as their own and give them equal respect.

Fundamental concept of Hinduism – Hinduism believes that there is not only one gospel truth or a way to reach upto God. There can be several truths and ways. Vedas are great source of knowledge, learning and wisdom. But there exist other sources, faiths and beliefs as well and faith and belief is something personal which can not be forced on anyone..

There had been periods, when the Vedic culture of Hinduism became weak, especially under foreign rules. It re-emerged every time, and whenever it re-emerged, it did not destroy other sects, but assimilated them within itself. It happened due to basic tenets of Vedic culture, which are very close to every Indian.

Why Hinduism is still the religion of majority in India – Hinduism adopts an inclusive culture. All incoming groups into Hinduism have been accepted on their own terms and Hinduism has legitimized their faith, beliefs, behavior patterns and life styles with freedom to evolve and change according to their internal rhythm. It was done through caste system, each caste has full freedom to have and worship its own God or Goddess. In the past, faith in Hinduism and its Caste system had acted as a shield to protect majority of Hindus from mass-conversions and acted as a major force for the failure of Islam, Christianity and other religions to make headway in India even after mass conversion, even at the time when they ruled India.

Caste system acted as a mechanism to assimilate other communities –  In the past for thousands of years, Hinduism welcomed and co-opted other migratory communities into itself at appropriate time through cast system. It has included smoothly numerous religious and social groups coming to India from different parts of the world at different points of time, without annihilating their originality or its own internal order. Caste system provided a unique mechanism to do so. It assigned to each new group a separate caste identity allowing freedom to worship its own god or goddess, maintain its own rules/regulations/rituals, way of life and authority to control conduct of its members, and still made it an integral part of the social whole.

 Spirit of tolerance in India – Spirit of tolerance in India and firm belief in the principle ‘live and let live has always been part of ethos in India. People are basically tolerant and accommodate people of all faiths. Tolerance is most evident in the field of religion. Hinduism inspires people to accommodate people of all faiths. Like Islam and Christianity, Hinduism is not proselytizing religion. Proselytizing religions are exclusive in nature.
It has always allowed all religions to preserve their distinct identities and faiths, which has come down to the present generation in an unbroken chain of succession, with some modifications and adaptations. That is why, all the twelve major religions of the world are present and flourishing in India without much hindrance. And there is multiplicity of God and Goddesses in India, because Hinduism believes an all-pervading infinite omnipresent Supreme being.   Within its fold Hinduism accommodates all persons having different faiths, ranging from atheists to monotheists and polytheists.  
Hinduism concedes validity to all the religions –  Hinduism concedes validity to all the religions. It does not lay down strictures against any faith or reject any religion or its god as false. It does not believe in conversion, imposing its God-Goddesses, religious scriptures, beliefs, practices or rituals on followers of others. Hinduism teaches them to give all the faiths due regards and opportunity to develop within their own parameters. It neither believes in repulsing any trend vehemently nor allows others to sweep its own established culture off its roots. That is why, all the twelve major religions of the world are present and flourishing in India without much hindrance.

Scenario in India, as far as religion is concerned – Following faiths co-exists within the land of India –

  •  Faiths originated in India like Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism.
  •  People, who migrated to India due to persecution or oppression in their homeland, like Jews, Bahais, Zoroastrians, or Tibetans.
  •  Converted to alien religion like Christianity and Islam, the religion of the conquerors.

Long history of living together in India – People of different religions have been living side by side ever since Seventh century, when Muslims came and settled down here. In national movement, all communities participated and fought against Imperial rule together. There is mutual understanding amongst people. Muslims allover India and Christians in southern India lead a social life hardly distinguishable from that of Hindus. While preserving their social identity in local community, there is a lot of give-and- take between people of all communities. They are bonded by language, culture and commerce. Most of the times, there is communal harmony. Communal harmony can be clearly seen in celebration of major festivals of various religions and in important local festivities. Dr Radhakrishnan says, ‘Secularism here ….. proclaims that it lays stress on the universality of spiritual values, which may be attained by variety of ways’.

Constitution of India – Article 25 says, all people are ‘equally entitled to freedom of conscience and right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion” (Article 25 of the Constitution of India). In his recent visit to India US President Obama has said,”… in all countries, upholding this fundamental freedom is the responsibility of Government, but it’s also the responsibility of every person.”  

Electoral politics enflaming communal intolerance – However, recently the country is witnessing increasingly a divide between majority and minority communities and recurrence of communal violence from time to time. Mostly communal disturbances that occur in India are not based on inveterate hatred or feeling of enmity amongst masses. It happens because politicians and their parties enflame communal feelings of the masses in order to serve their own vested interests of and retain power in their hands until it is possible.

Conversion, an alien concept – To convince masses, Fundamentalists need some excuse to justify their dogmas and they always find it. Conversion or no conversion, people of India know to live in harmony giving respect to temple, masjid or church. It is the politicization of issue that creates controversies and law and order problem. Has conversion ever given all the Dalits, poor and underprivileged people prosperity, higher social status or cultural freedom?

 “Ghar waapasi” (Home-coming) and its reaction – Recently, some groups are trying to re-convert people in the name “Ghar waapasi” (Home-coming). As a counter RSS sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat’s comments on ‘ghar wapsi’ and that ‘all Hindustanis are Hindus and that every Indian’s cultural identity is Hindutva’ was counter attacked by Owaisi, leader of MIM, Hyderabad by saying that “every person who enters this world is Muslim. But circumstances and parents mould him into other faiths. You ( Sangh Parivar) are free to disagree as Islam denounces the use of force.” (TOI, p. 12, 6.1.2015)

Conversion is an alien concept. Hinduism has neither repulsed against any religion vehemently, nor allowed other religions to sweep its own established faith and culture off its roots.

Conclusion – As Martin Luther King Jr. says, “The chain reaction of evil – hate begetting hate, wars producing wars – must be broken, or else we shall be plunged into dark abyss of annihilation. The hardcore elements of any community will have to rise above the politics of religion or region and follow the path of humanity. If Hinduism succeeds in spreading the message of humanism and true Indian values, there will be peace and prosperity allover.

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Latasinha's Weblog

 

Some religions like Islam or Chrstianity consider their religions to be very special, therefore preach/lure/force people belonging to other faiths to convert into their respective faiths. But Hinduism never believed in conversions, thus imposing on others its value systems and worship its God only.

Hinduism has neither repulsed any trend vehemently, nor allowed others to sweep its own established faith and culture off its roots. Caste system has acted as a shield. It was a major force for the failure of Islam, Christianity and other religions to make headway in India even after mass conversion, even at the time when they ruled India.

All incoming groups into Hinduism on their own terms and legitimized their beliefs, behavior patterns and life styles with freedom to evolve and change according to their internal rhythm.

In the past thousands of years, Hinduism welcomed and co-opted them into itself at appropriate time…

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January 4, 2015 - Posted by | General | ,

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