By Sneha Roychoudhary
Edited by Nandita Singh, Senior Editor, The Indian Economist
“Religion, a medieval form of unreason, when combined with modern weaponry becomes a threat to our freedoms.”
- Salman Rushdie
While many may disagree with parts or even the entire statement, there is some truth to be accorded to this comment on this organised institution that governs perhaps most of the world’s affairs today. Religion has been in the business of calling shots in an individual’s life and a community’s actions for a long time now. Wars have been fought, men and women tortured and killed, souls pinned on stakes and frenzied riots organised- all in this apparent journey to ultimate “peace and salvation” that religion promises to bestow. What we do not however consider is that violence advocated in the name of a greater spiritual being, namely God, is never led by the hand of God or religion in the basic sense of its definition. The day one takes up arms against one’s own kind, is the day one renounces the path shown by faith and channelizes all of one’s energies to an entirely separate ambition of gore and hatred. This journey is not advocated by an omnipresent, all-forgiving God man has made him out to be.
Volatility on religious grounds is a legacy that India has been bestowed with. Very recently the country has witnessed a rather pressing display of religious controversy in the form of forced conversions in various parts of the country by right-winged Hindu organisations, following the apparently holy dictates of the “Hindutva” ideology. To jog the selectively amnesic public memory- a rather common syndrome in the world today- conversions have been and continue to be one of the most concerning issues in the socio-cultural and political sphere of India for over a decade now. The last month has been an evident and unapologetic display of the violation of a very fundamental right allowed to every citizen of the nation by its esteemed Constitution- the right to practice, propagate and preach any religion without encroaching upon the right of another individual’s to do the same.
There is also the violation of the very spirit of the Constitution of India that rests in its Preamble – in the word “Secular,” more precisely, but we can safely conclude that caution in that respect has been evidently flung to the wind. The agenda of these Hindu fundamentalist groups is very significantly founded on the concept of “ghar wapsi” or to put it simply- homecoming. Silhouetted against a predominantly Hindu society, India has witnessed the massive phenomenon of “reconversion” into Hinduism from other minority religious groups in exchange for economic incentives afforded to those participating in these mass conversions. Pawning faith on counters of vested interests for upliftment has finally surfaced in the delicate dealings of India’s diverse social order. This is not to mention the fact that the RSS and VHP- both advocates of this racket- are not merely justifying their actions, but also taking very goal-oriented steps towards achieving this aim. Events that supply evidence to the same were witnessed in Kerala and Agra a few weeks back, when over fifty families were “lured” into converting to Hinduism- all reportedly belonging to lower economic backgrounds.
This step taken towards arbitrary conversions is, as some have very reasonably (indeed!) pointed out, an answer to Islam’s “Love Jihad” or the increase in the multitude of Islamic population by marrying non-Muslims and hence converting them to the concerned faith. What has followed these events has been the slinging of some dirty communal mud between the extremist groups of all minorities and the majority group. There must also be a mention of the fact that this entire exchange has been conveniently disowned by the Government and the ruling Party. The only official statement on the matter has been for the need of stricter laws, and how can one let that slip without mentioning the uncooperative Opposition. Hence, the political responsibility has been met, the statement made, the participants discredited and the Opposition blamed. A job rather well accomplished.
It is something of an irony how homecoming meant such different things not too long ago, for India. “Ghar wapsi” was associated with the arrival of the man who rendered us free, the khadi-clad soul that stood for the truth, defended the poor, and brought such a diverse nation to believe in and dream of the same independence. However, we as a people have left that behind. We have let the Mahatma truly die his silent death and have allowed the monsters to rise from the wrecked ashes of understanding and compassion. Infighting has curbed the aspirations of India and Indians, and even today we play puppet to the mongers of hatred and division. The enemy lies within, and so do these lines and walls we are so quick to build. Conversions, forceful or subtle, are a telling comment of not merely the social situations prevailing in this country, but they also give away our economic disparity and our political insecurities, among other concerning problems.
Sneha Roychoudhury is a student of History with a passion for words and can be best described by the collection of books stacked on her shelves and the little doodles made on tattered ends of these volumes. She dreams, and she protects them in a lexical fortress- some of it built and quite some imagined. Music renders her free and literature entwines her being- each mending the chipped pieces of her imperfect soul. Travel and the written word are her soul mates, the world a box of woes and wonder and the untold stories of the nameless millions her singular passion.