Two interesting developments took place last month, giving a fresh twist to the raging controversy over conversions and the extension of caste-based reservations to converts. First, the Chennai High Court ruled against providing Christian Dalits the benefits of constitutional reservations in jobs, but provided them for those who returned to the Hindu fold, in consonance with the spirit of the Indian Constitution. Second, the shooting of a Christian convert from Islam in a remote Srinagar village exposed the myth that missionaries avoid poor Muslims out of fear of Islamic fundamentalism.
It speaks volumes about the money and muscle power enjoyed by Christian evangelists, not to mention the support of foreign governments that they can dare to practice conversions in Kashmir, the heartland and launching pad of jehadi terrorism in India. It bears noting that the State'sminiscule Hindu population has all but fled the valley, and the stray Hindus who remain are under intense pressure. Yet missionaries are unfazed, and the murder of Bashir Ahmed Tantray in Pattan village last month suggests that their successes have begun to rile the jehadis and other fundamentalists.
Although Tantray'sfamily has denied allegations that he was involved in converting poor Muslims by offering money and other inducements, conservative estimates suggest that around 2000 families have converted to Christianity in recent times. This certainly suggests the presence of powerful inducements, particularly in terms of children'seducation and employment opportunities.
Given that the offer of ?incentives? remains the eternal missionary way of creating new believers, it is heartening that the Chennai High Court took a stand in the matter of Christianity weaning away the faithful of one tradition on the pretext of justice, equality and so on, and then failing to deliver on these exalted promises. The case in question concerns a Dalit born to Hindu parents converted to Christianity and re-converted to Hinduism. As a Hindu Dalit, he was entitled to quota benefits provided to Scheduled Castes in the matter of government employment. A division bench comprising Justices Dharma Rao and S.K. Krishnan allowed R Shankar to challenge the Tamil Nadu Public Service Commission'srejection of his application to the post of civil judge under the Scheduled Caste quota.
Arguing that though born to Dalit Christian parents, Shankar said he returned to the Hindu fold in 1983 and received a Scheduled Caste certificate. Despite passing the examination and interview for the post of civil judge, his appointment was held up for verification of community (caste) status. When eventually denied appointment on grounds of being born in a Christian family, he challenged the decision successfully, with the learned judges finding his re-conversion to Hinduism acceptable.
This is a shot in the arm for all Dalit Hindus who have been weaned away from their natal faith and traditions and are discovering that the grass is not greener on the other side of the fence. The Bishops? Conference of India and the All India Catholic Union, emboldened by the dominance of Ms. Sonia Gandhi in the present UPA dispensation, have promptly declared their determination to secure reservation benefits for Dalit Christians. They are likely to achieve their desires, since this is the very reason why the UPA set up the Ranganath Mishra Commission National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities (NCRLM); the Sachar Committee has already recommended quotas for Muslims.
The missionary argument that in India caste transcends religion is too clever by half. They must confine conversions to Hindus who are willing to renounce caste in all its dimensions, failing which they must renounce the practice of conversions and learn to respect both Hindu Dharma and the caste system, which is integral to Hindu tradition. If the so-called caste bias does not go away with conversion to another faith, there is something wanting in the conversion process and the new faith.
The system of jati and varna (caste) is unique to Hindu society, and is a complex socio-historical process by which the myriad native groups of India were fused into a single civilization, which retained a rich cultural pluralism and never degenerated into uniformity. The elasticity of the caste system provided for inclusion, rather than exclusion (the premise upon which the monotheistic traditions rest), and thus accommodated all persons and groups seeking entry into the Hindu fold.
It was caste – the affiliation to a jati – which prevented the wholesale conversion of Hindus under Islamic tyranny and state power. The British Raj was the first to recognise this fact; the current evangelical determination to appropriate caste to foster conversions derives from the same imperialistic imperative of capitalism-colonialism-conversion. There can be little doubt that the Ranganath Mishra Commission has been pre-programmed to extend constitutional benefits to Dalit Christians, including political reservations, by giving them the right to contest SC/ST Parliamentary and Assembly reserved seats. This will no doubt make life easier for persons like former Congress chief minister Ajit Jogi, who is unable to tell us if he is a Christian, a scheduled caste or a scheduled tribe!
The new BJP president, Mr. Rajnath Singh, must unequivocally oppose the extension of caste benefits to missionary religions. Christianity aims at the total annihilation of the native religion and culture of its converts, and the imposition of a totally new way of life and thinking upon them. It is, in every sense of the term, a totalitarian tradition, and pastors have an enviable hold upon the faithful. Hence missionaries cannot claim that they are unable to combat caste consciousness among converts. The truth is that the upper caste church hierarchy wishes to perpetuate its own domination of the faithful, rather than combat caste-based prejudice in the manner that Hindu society itself has been doing for several hundred years.
The Chennai High Court has done well to refuse to let missionaries enter the caste door. Christians accepting and practicing caste discrimination should be prosecuted under the relevant provisions in the law, not pampered by being allowed to continue mistreating historically disadvantaged groups.