2015, Conversion to Hinduism
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 5 Jan 2015
I welcome the New Year. I hope things will be better than the previous year. I wish in the new year no innocent lives are lost, no school going children are killed, and no one imposes his will on others by brutal force. Human being is empowered with reason, and let reason emerge victorious over other forces. I wish nations do not go to war or promote violent conflicts to fulfill their so called national interests. I also wish that no body sleeps with an empty stomach. I know these are all long list of wishes. In one sentence, I wish everybody becomes happy and everybody transcends narrow-mindedness, economic hardship, hatred and fundamentalism. Let true democracy emerge victorious in 2015!
India currently has witnessed intense debates on religious conversion particularly after some people converted into Hinduism. The proponents term these conversions ghar wapsi, literally meaning return back home, implying reconversion of those people who had once been Hindus. I am willing to join the debates in this page. The only thing I detest is that these debates often go to extremes – the debaters will say ‘I am right and you are wrong’. They are not ready to see reason in the arguments of their opponents. I do not rule out the role of criticism in a debate but that criticism must be rational and constructive. Criticism for the sake of criticism does not generate any positive result.
I am against forceful conversion from one religion to another religion. I apply this principle to all religions. The other principle I believe is that past, particularly when it is violent, does not need to be repeated. If somebody converted people from my religion by means of force in the past, then I must convert people from that religion by force because I have power now is not a very good principle. This approach is against the spirit of Hinduism.
One must keep these principles of Hinduism in mind while entering into a debate on conversion. Hinduism is not a conventional religion with some formal institutions and systems of prayer. It is certainly more than that. It is a way of life. To be a Hindu, one must live Hinduism not simply by going to temples but by following its principle in daily life and action. If one does not follow these principles, then he is not a true Hindu. Swami Vivekananda while arguing in Chicago in 1893 that Hinduism is mother of all religions likened this religion to a mighty flowing river joined by numerous small rivers and streams. When he said I am proud to be a Hindu, he did not mean to be a Hindu who simply follows the rituals, but also a Hindu who believes in its essential credos as elaborated in Vedas, Vedanta and Gita, and practices them. Hindu religion is not like other religions which grew around one personality or one event, rather it is the religion known as sanatana or eternal. It is the religion which does not have a date of birth like many other religions.
Unlike other religions Hindu religion does not believe in proselytization. There are no incursions or violent wars in Hindu religion towards converting a person or a group of persons. That is its beauty. There are massive onslaughts on Hindu religion, brutal and fundamentalist emperors forcefully converted Hindus, silenced defiance by force, demolished Hindu temples and looted them, but the religion survived or rather prospered. The great Hindu religious and spiritual leaders like Shankara or Ramanuja or Swami Vivekananda or Sri Chaitanya or Sri Aurobindo did not argue in favor of conversion. Ramakrishna even went a step further in realizing the core of other religions. The magnanimity of Hindu religion is not proselytization but rather its vastness, pluralism and democratic way of life. Hindu religion has places in its fold for agnostics, atheists, believers, non-believers, and all and sundry. Charavak was a strong critic of Hindu social order and delivered speeches from the top of temples but no body killed him. It is true that Hindu religious gurus like Dayanand and Shraddhanand believed that those who were forcefully converted from Hinduism needed to be brought back to the Hindu fold, but I never came across literature mentioning that they advocated force for the purpose. I believe Hindu religion may welcome a person from other religion to its fold if that person is consciously taking a decision to embrace Hinduism. In this context, Tulsi Gabbard, currently a member of the US Congress, comes to my mind.
In Hindu religion there is no place for fundamentalism. A Hindu can be deeply religious, but in public life he can be absolutely secular. Gandhi was a clear example. Every morning he prayed the famous song of Vaishnav poet, Narsinh Mehta, but undertook fast when Pakistan, created on the basis of religion, was denied the promised dues after the partition. Imposition of a view is far from Hinduism. A person can be a devout Hindu, and at the same time a secular politician. I again insist Hindu religion does not strictly command the followers to subscribe a particular ritual or rituals. There are many ways of realizing God in Hindu religion – through Gnana, Bhakti, Rajayoga, Prem, Tantra and Karma – but none of these paths impose themselves upon a seeker. What I am trying to emphasize here is one does not need to have a necessary Hindu attire, or a typical marks on head or body, to be a true Hindu. The central credo is: ‘my God is true, so also is your God – God realization is same though the paths vary’ (Ekam sat vipra bahudha vadanti). It is absolutely un-Hindu if someone says “my God is the only truth, and your God is false.”
Taking into account these basic credos of Hindu religion I oppose forceful conversion. However, if someone like Tulsi Gabbard takes a conscious decision to embrace Hinduism, he or she can be welcome. But exploiting people’s fears, economic vulnerabilities, and low social status, and forcing them to embrace Hinduism is nothing but against the very heart of the religion.
Also Indian law is against any conversion by means of force, inducement or allurement. As a law abiding citizen, I abide by this principle, and opposes any person who violates this principle.
I am hopeful that the year 2015 will be peaceful. There will be less violence, and less greed among people and their leaders. I wish India remains true to its spirit, and Hinduism does not follow the path of some retrograde variety in other parts of the world. I am proud to be Hindu, and also proud to be an Indian.
Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Jains, Jews, and people without religion, have all called India their home. This is the beauty of India. It is true that majority of Indians are Hindus, and it is their responsibility to ensure that Hinduism remains true to its spirit. They must work to see that Hinduism is true to its principle ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam – the whole world is one family.’
Dr Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra is a member of the TRANSCEND Network and an Indian commentator. His areas of interest include conflict transformation and peacebuilding in South and Central Asia. He is a Fellow at the Center for Peace, Democracy and Development, University of Massachusetts Boston. His edited book Conflict and Peace in Eurasia was published by Routledge in 2013.
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 5 Jan 2015.
Anticopyright: Editorials and articles originated on TMS may be freely reprinted, disseminated, translated and used as background material, provided an acknowledgement and link to the source, TMS: 2015, Conversion to Hinduism, is included. Thank you.
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