Strongly affirming the role of religion in defining individual and group identity, Jharkhand'sbeleaguered Sarna tribe is demanding immediate withdrawal of reservation benefits in government jobs and educational institutions from members who have converted to Christianity. The Kendriya Sarna Samiti (KSS), which has taken the lead in this matter, asserts that tribal converts no longer belong to the Scheduled Tribe as they have renounced their traditional identity as a sine qua non of the conversion process.
It is noteworthy that in a recent judgment, the Supreme Court ruled that converted tribals may continue to enjoy reservation facilities provided they continue to practise the natal culture (in this case the Sarna tradition). However, the ground reality is that converted tribals invariably adhere to Christian traditions and display an aversion to the old tribal symbols of faith and culture. This, aver KSS president Ajay Tirkey and tribal leader Arjun Oraon, is because Christian missionaries convert tribals through allurements and compel them to exclusively follow the Christian culture, tradition, and mode of prayer. The availability of Scheduled Tribe quota benefits to tribal Christians thus seriously puts tribal existence in danger, because missionary education gives tribal converts an edge in the competition for jobs or seats. This makes a mockery of the spirit of reservation and denies the truly deprived of avenues to enhance their lot in life.
It is pertinent that the Supreme Court has ruled that the offspring of a tribal girl marrying an upper caste Hindu is not eligible for facilities provided by the government to tribals, and this principle should logically extend to converted tribals. Since the argument frequently advanced in favour of conversion is that the converted are seeking to better their social status, this may be presumed to have been effected with the act of conversion. There should be no doubt in anyone'smind that conversions have anything to do with religion and conscience. They are a systematic and cynical ploy to win over territory through numbers for the converting agency; there is no such thing as a free lunch.
A peek at the Home Ministry'slist of foreign contributions for 2003-04 shows that 17,145 associations received Rs 5105.46 crore in a singe year. The highest sum was received in Delhi (Rs. 857.12 crore), followed by Tamil Nadu (Rs 800.22 crore), Andhra Pradesh (Rs 684.20 crore), Karnataka (Rs 528.56 crore) and Maharashtra (Rs 480.61 crore). These are interestingly states with a significant tribal population that is high on the missionary hit list. Among donor countries, foremost is expectedly the USA (Rs 1,584.26 crore), followed by Germany (Rs 757.13 crore), UK (Rs 676.14 crore), Italy (Rs 350.01 crore) and the Netherlands (Rs 304.04 crore). The leading donor organisations include the Foundation Vincent E Ferrer, Spain; World Vision International, USA; Christian Children Fund, USA; Plan International, USA; and Missio, Germany.
It is surely pertinent from the tribal point of view that besides foreign institutional donors, well-placed Christians serve as the cutting edge of the missionary agenda in India. Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Samuel Reddy, for instance, has attained the dubious distinction of being the first Chief Minister to sanction grant-in-aid to repair abandoned churches, besides allocating funds for new churches. A handsome sum of Rs. 80,000 has been sanctioned to each church for repair and renovation purposes, and Rs. 1.50 lakh for the construction of each new church. This is surely an allurement, inducement and bribe for conversion, yet the Government of India has failed to take note of it. Nor has the otherwise energetic National Human Rights Commission taken suo moto notice of the active misuse of public funds for the promotion of a religious agenda and the infringement of the religious freedom of target groups.
It is hardly accidental that Harvard Professor Amartya Sen, awarded the Nobel Prize at a time when the West stepped up its offensive against Hindu India, has suddenly attacked British Prime Minister Tony Blair for fostering a society in which ethnic minorities are defined almost exclusively by their religion, and for endorsing the establishment of faith schools. Sen has argued that all faith schools in the UK, barring those run by Christians, should be scrapped so as to promote a ?unifying British identity?. Even while making some pertinent points vis-?-vis British society, Sen does not extend his prescriptions to India, which is still suffering the brunt of its colonial misfortune. Thus, he says that different faith schools in the UK (read madrasas since Hindus go to normal schools) undermine national unity because very young children are inculcated with a notion of being a ?community? defined essentially by religion, and this effaces other commonalities like language, literature, culture. Sen upholds the importance of having a British identity in Britain. But it would be too much to expect him to call for an end to madrasa education in India, and an Indian identity for all citizens, symbolised by Vande Mataram, and it is this duplicity that feeds my suspicion that an aggressive Christian agenda is being peddled by multiple agencies aligned to the West. Sen is being facetious when he argues that the religious identity is not the over-arching identity. The truth is that for the group there simply can be no other overriding identity; it is only the individual who can stress or de-emphasise his/her multiple identities such as profession, social class, gender, politics, language, literature, taste in music, and so on. There can be no tip-toeing around this issue.