If, as reported, the conversion of 350 odd Muslims in Ved Nagar in Agra to Hinduism is the work of RSS, it is clear that the RSS has grown strategic. By a small move that is smart too, the RSS seems to have triggered a debate on conversions which it has been asking for decades but evaded by its critics who merely kept abusing the RSS. Hindus are not best known for strategic thinking, save exceptions like Sri Krishna, Chanakya, Chatrapati Shivaji and Mahatma Gandhi. Lack of strategic thinking among Hindus is no surprise because they did not have any agenda to capture, subordinate and rule the world through their religion, Gods or weapons.
Recently [March 30, 2013] ‘The Economist’ magazine derided India’s lack strategic culture as the main impediment to its emergence as global power. The Economist is right. Hindus did not need, and therefore did not have, offensive strategy against any. Stray strategic thinking like uniting the Hindus has been late development in Hindu history, more oriented to defending their religion and culture that is inclusive.
The RSS, which spearheads efforts for a harmonious Hindu society, has been quite plain about its agenda yet inclusive in its philosophy. It calls this nation, not the Indian state, as Hindu Rashtra. It believes that Indian Muslims are not heirs of the Arabs, but very much indigenous in stock. Nor Christians in India, in its view, European descendants. Its conviction is that all Indians have the same, not different, forefathers and culture.
On facts and logic, the RSS seems right. Even Muslims, who are generally exclusive, never claimed a different ancestry till as late as early 19th century. In the Census of India in 1901, out of some 6.6 crore Muslims living in undivided India, only 3.5 lakh (just a minuscule one in two hundred) had claimed to be heirs of Mughals (Hindu Culture During and after Muslim Rule: Survival and Subsequent Challenges by Dr. Ram Gopal. 1994).
The RSS had relied on this logic and fact of common ancestry to seek to assimilate Muslims and Christians into the national mainstream.
Assimilation harmonises. And does not antagonise. Swami Vivekananda told the proselytising religions at World Parliament of Religions in his final address to them on September 27, 1893, to assimilate, not destroy .
Assimilation is not destruction because it is not conversion. Conversion destroys.
According to the Nobel Laureate Sir V S Naipaul, “To be converted you have to destroy your past, destroy your history. You have to stamp on it, you have to say ‘my ancestral culture does not exist, it doesn’t matter .”
Conversion is destruction of culture, nation and state, while assimilation is construction of all the three. Mahatma Gandhi was as plain as the RSS in his testament Hind Swaraj . In which after three decades, he said, he was unwilling to change a comma or full stop -- that assimilation of Muslims was the answer to Hindu-Muslim problem. Asked whether the introduction of Mohammedanism had not unmade India as a nation, Mahatma Gandhi said: “India cannot cease to be one nation because people belonging to different religions live in it. The introduction of foreigners does not necessarily destroy the nation, they merge in it. A country is one nation only when such a condition obtains in it.”
That country must have a faculty for assimilation, India has ever been such a country. But, when RSS spoke of assimilation, the ‘seculars’, ignorant of what Gandhi or Vivekananda had said or ignoring both, abused it as communal. The ‘secular’ megaphones were so noisy that they drowned all feeble voices calling for saner debate.
Does it need a seer to say that the people most devastated by conversion are and continue to be Hindus? Undeniably, every non-Hindu in India is a convert from Hinduism. Conversion hits almost exclusively only the non-proselytising Hinduism. Therefore, for several decades, it is the Hindu outfits which have been demanding ban on conversions. The Christians and Muslims and, for their ballot papers, the ‘seculars’, were opposing.
Now Agra conversions seem to have trapped the ‘seculars’ into debating the very idea of religious conversions. When the RSS called for ban on conversions the ‘seculars’ said it was an attempt to stifle religious freedom. The ‘seculars’ have been evading this debate for decades even after the Supreme Court approved the anti-conversion laws passed by Madhya Pradesh and Orissa Governments in 1967. After the Neogi Committee appointed by the Congress government in Madhya Pradesh had established that innocent tribals were being converted by allurement, fraud, force, inducement, or fraud€ , the anti-conversion laws were passed. No one could say that any one could be converted by such uncivilised means. Yet the Church challenged the law as stifling the right to profess and propagate one’s faith granted under Art 25(1) of the Constitution. The Court threw it out saying “what Article 25(1) grants, by the word propagate, is not the right to convert another person to one’s own religion by exposition of its tenets. So propagation and conversion are not identical. Propagation is permitted by law but conversion is not.
Did any ‘secular’ party or leader tell the Parliament that this is what the Supreme Court said in 1977? If they did that then they have to talk against conversion of Hindus too. They only talked against Agra conversions, not conversions as such. And in line with them, the ‘secular’ media screams poor Muslims converted by Hindutva outfits . Undoubtedly both the ‘secular’ parties and the ‘secular’ media have been shocked by the Agra development. Why?
For them it has been normal and quite acceptable for poor Hindus to get converted to the only true faiths of the world. They never imagined that Hindus who believe all faiths are valid for their respective followers would ever convert others to their faith. The ‘seculars’ had almost reserved the right to convert only to those religions which believe their God as the only true God and the Gods of others fake and false and therefore have to be wiped out.
When the ‘seculars’ bowled the full toss of Agra conversions at Modi government, Venkiah Naidu promptly seized the opportunity “hitting the ball for a six “ to propose a central law for ban on conversions. Now is the Modi government not free to bring a law to ban conversions by inducement and fraud, including Agra conversions? It is. If it does, can the ‘seculars’ oppose it? Cannot. Because if they do then they cannot fault Agra conversions. If they do not, then they cannot oppose a law that will stop millions of Hindus being converted through inducement and allurement.
What the RSS could not achieve by decades of reasoning and pleading, it seems to have got on a platter by its single act of converting a few hundred Muslims into Hindus and trapping the ‘seculars’ to oppose it.
Indeed a very small price to pay for a very logical outcome namely debate for ban on induced and fraudulent conversions. The stage is now clearly set for this mother of all debates.
Tail piece: Ban on such conversions is fully in line with the declaration of all world religious leaders on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of human rights held in Amsterdam under the aegis of United Nations on 10th December 2008.
All religions including Hinduism, Buddhism and the two proselytising religions Islam and Christianity have signed a declaration that they shall mutually respect, not deride, each others’ faith. It is not clearly the Hindu view? They also agreed that the freedom to retain one’s religion or choose another shall be without coercion or inducement. Is this not what the RSS has been asking for decades?
S Gurumurthy is a well-known commentator on political and economic issues.