Right - wing Hindus never had any issue with Christians or with conversion when it came to using — and exploiting — Christian institutions. They have had no problem in availing Christian medical facilities. No abhorrence has been evinced toward convent schools, where the so-called upper castes were taught the English that got them jobs abroad and enabled them to articulate their views at global forums. That changed around 1998, when the BJP came to power. Targetting Christians became politically useful. A massive campaign was launched against Sonia Gandhi, making an issue of a person of foreign and Christian origin wielding power over a Hindu majority country. It culminated in the hatred for Christians, who are now seen as villains instead of the gentle community they had hitherto been known as.
Wisdom lies in understanding the causes which escalate the processes of hatred. So it becomes our responsibility to fathom the mystery of conversion, usually assigned as the basis for attacks on Christians. The RSS, Bajrang Dal and VHP blame those said to offer inducements to convert; they also accuse the global Church of pumping money into India to influence the country’s have-nots. In such a context, the word ‘conversion’ becomes synonymous with ‘terrorism’, a connotation that could not be further from the truth. What does conversion mean except the choice of another faith or ideology? Laws against conversion are in operation in several states and, to date, not one case has been reported where a conversion was made in the greed for inducements.
What worries the Sangh Parivar is not the welfare of dalits but a possible reduction in upper-caste Hindu numbers. Their prejudice is so entrenched that they are not in a position to sense the agony of those who suffer under the caste-based system. In general, Hindu believers treat the disadvantaged as sinners reaping the fruits of a past life. Thus, a leper is to be shunned; the exploitation of dalits is justified. On the contrary, a Christian finds an opportunity for spiritual fulfillment in serving the leper and healing the sick. Before they build churches, Christians normally build schools and hospitals. Why do major Hindu religious establishments involve themselves only in collecting donations and not in performing such community services?
Let us examine the few hopes still left for Hinduism. Are dalits, tribals and members of backward groups allowed to become priests? Tall claims are made of dalits being trained to become priests or being welcomed to take up Hindu rituals. But, on the ground, the traditional situation has not changed. Though physical untouchability receded in the 20th century, the mental block remains.
The Hindu Right and the so called upper castes see ‘saving’ Hinduism as their mission. But, in this competition with Islam, Christianity and Buddhism, the superficial brotherhood shown by right-wing Hindu organisations toward tribals and dalits does not ultimately win their hearts. Unless the problems inherent to Hinduism are addressed, conversion can never be stopped. A Christian marries his or her co-religionist; a Muslim does the same. Is that possible for Hindus across caste? Are the upper castes ready to welcome reservation for their Hindu brothers? Is their society ready for inter-dining and for inter-caste marriages? Without these conditions being fulfilled, no one on earth can stop the rejection of Hinduism by the socalled lower castes. The so-called upper castes can only stop conversion if they introspect, eradicate the evil in the caste system, and visualise themselves in a situation where they and their families are carrying human excreta on their heads. Then, they will feel the suffering of those condemned to do so for life.
Udit Raj is a dalit activist