Religion is “the opium of the masses” – these words of Karl Marx perfectly explain why our polity would choose dogma over progress. Religion has been unabashedly exploited in India by the British and this continues unabated even now. It seems God too is fond of jokes, and he played one on us by making us the people that we are – helpless against our own failings!
In December 2014, Dharam Jagran Samiti (DJS), carried out the reconversion of some muslims into Hinduism in the city of Agra. It turned out to be a fiasco as the affected individuals, all rag pickers, declared that they had been duped into forsaking their faith and allurements such as BPL cards, Aadhar cards and entitlement to government housing were used in the attempted subversion of their faith. DJS , however denied the allegations and claimed the activity to be voluntary.
Matters weren’t helped further when plans for a slew of such events, termed “ghar wapsi” (homecoming),came to light and other right wing Hindu organisations like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal announced plans for unprecedented number of reconversion to Hinduism in diverse places such as Aligarh, Rae Bareilly, Kerala, Goa, Bihar and elsewhere.
These reconversions were justified by the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) on the ground that the ancestors of the Christians and Muslims of India were essentially Hindu and had been converted under coercion and now that the conditions had changed, the present generation was merely making a “homecoming”.
The opposition parties, were till now like a hapless boxer who didn’t even have his shorts on let alone the gloves, suddenly found themselves with an agenda to throw punches at the Modi government.
Meanwhile minority organsations rushed “task forces” to areas where the planned reconversion was likely to take place to help people keep the faith (why were they losing it in the first place?). Emergency symposiums were also conducted by them to keep their “flock together”.
The BJP government was accused of not reining in the Hindu organisatons and the opposition demanded that the PM make a statement in the Parliament to reassure the minorities. The PM did not oblige and instead the BJP asked the opposition parties to support a National Anti-Conversion law to ban all conversions completely. This led to a deadlock and the combined opposition stalled all legislative activities.
Dance of Democracy indeed !
The Amul Ad deals with the Conversion Controversy.The Amul Girl dressed as a chef, with caricatures depicting a Sikh and Tamil Brahmin and serving generous dollops of the “yellow delight” on platters of Parantha (Indian Bread) and Idli, Dosa and Sambhar respectively. The strip attempts to showcase the regional diversity of India.
The Tag Line…..Easy To Convert To… hints at the complexities of the conversion conundrum by using the Amul butter as a medium. The line extols the pan India acceptance of the product and that it adds taste to any regional cuisine.
The Punch Line…Aapsi Mein Baato..is a play on the term “ghar wapsi” and literally translates into “equally distributing amongst all” implying that the product be consumed as widely as possible.
Religious conversion has been a sensitive issue in India due to the legacy of forced conversion of Hindus to Islam by various Muslim rulers and the proselytizing carried out by the Christian missionaries. Princely states had anti conversion laws specifically directed against conversion to Christianity. British India though did not have any such law and for obvious reasons.
Post-independence the Indian Constitution recognizes, in Article 25(1), that “all persons” are free to “profess, practice, propogate freely” the religion of their choice. The Supreme Court of India has ruled that the right to propogate be not confused with the right to convert and has also empowered states to enact Freedom of Religion laws to deal with forced conversion related issues. States of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Orissa, Arunachal Pradesh ,Tamil Nadu and Chattisgarh have all enacted such laws right from the 60s upto now which make forced conversions a cognizable offence under the sections 295 and 298 A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Also, while law prohibits conversion, `reconversion’ of low caste Hindus is permissible.
The above mentioned laws are seen to be aimed at keeping the low caste Hindus within the folds of Hinduism in the face of socially demeaning practices. Since most of the low caste Hindus are at the lowest rung of the society they are succeptible to coercion as well as allurements. Christian Missionaries have been regularly accused of proselytizing in the garb of providing relief during disasters or while spreading literacy and providing medical care.
Interestingly, though Islam and Christianity do not claim to have a hierarchical strata, yet in India these faiths too follow a caste system! At times converted Christians are discriminated against based on their erstwhile Hindu caste ! The Hindu organisations have declared that all reconverted Hindus will be free to choose their new castes !This is an impossibility in Hinduism at the same time it’s a fantastic allure keeping in mind the sops and reservations available to low caste Hindus in jobs and education.
To those who fight over religion, I ask is there a perfect religion worth fighting over?
The Bible has improbabilities such as talking snakes and bushes ! Ask a dad about his belief in the story of the Virgin Mary if it is to be applied on his daughter? And how come Noah found Penguins and Polar Bears in Palestine??? (Where was the North Pole back then??)
Even in Islam the Quran is said to contain fables already existing at the time which have been presented as the “word of God” to the Prophet Mohammad.
A word about our politicians. The opposition came across as “pseudo secularists” when they do not complain against any incident of forced conversion of Hindus coming to light. Also they balked at the idea of a National Anti-Conversion law not on the grounds of constitutionality (as the constitution guarantees freedom of religion) but offered obfuscated logic to try and hold on to THEIR “flock of voters”.
I also ask the Indian National Congress (INC) or the “Janata Parivaar” that which PM of India has made a statement since 1947 to reassure the Hindu community when cases of forced or coerced conversion at the hand of Christian Missionaries have come to light? Then why such blatant vote bank politics at the cost of governance and development? Let religion be in the absolute background.
The ruling combine needs to be faulted for not nipping the menace in the bud and letting the Winter Session go down the drain.Also, could not the PM have addressed the people of this Country through any medium to instil confidence in his governments commitment towards secularism and secondly to defeat the opposition’s banal tactics?
Its time we got on with governance and development as even as I write there are millions sleeping on the roadside in the bitter cold, who have also gone hungry and will squat in the open tomorrow morning and have no way of ensuring that their children can avoid this fate.
Religion after all is the opium of the masses. Is it?
Btw the Bible does contains much that is relevant today, like Noah taking 40 days to find a parking spot !