In the recent past the Governor of Orissa Shri Murlidhar Chandrakanta Bhandare, while addressing a meeting about the tension of Kandhamal, said that the path of Mahatma Gandhi should be followed which will restore peace in the area.
Although by mentioning ?the path of Gandhiji? the Governor might have meant something else but every word of the Governor is true. The path of Gandhiji indeed is the only way to restore peace not only in Kandhamal but also in other parts of the country. Besides, many non-Indian activities going on in India will also stop if the path of Gandhiji is followed. There will be no seceding activities in the country in any form.
Now let us examine what is that exact ?path of Gandhiji? which can restore peace in the region and in the country. In the Young India magazine Gandhiji wrote: ?I disbelieve in the conversion of one person by another? (Young India, 23.4.1931). Again he wrote in Harijan: ?Why should a Christian want to convert a Hindu to Christianity?? (Harijan, January 30).
There cannot be a clearer expression as to how Gandhiji abhorred conversion. He had a hearty disdain for the conversion activity of the Christian missionaries in India and in other places of the world. ?It is impossible for me?, he wrote, ?to reconcile myself to the idea of conversion after the style that goes on in India and other places? (Harijan, January 30, 1937).
He was so upset by the conversion spree of the missionaries that he wished everything to stop immediately by legal enforcement. ?If I had the power and could legislate?, he wrote, ?I should stop all proselytizing? …(Harijan, November 5, 1935).
Let us now examine why Gandhiji, who is so well known for his liberal attitude for other religions had nurtured such a bitter mindset towards conversion? Why did he give such hard statements against conversion by the missionaries? Why did he wish that conversion should immediately be stopped legally?
In India the indigenous culture and traditions are inseparably interwoven with the indigenous religion. Sister Nivedita rightly said: ?India and Hinduism are one.? Conversion to a non-Indic religion is possible only when the Indic religion is displaced. And a displacement of Indic religion means the displacement of the Indic traditions and culture with which the person is associated since generations. Conversion to Christianity etc. ensures abandonment of all the traditions and culture inherited and practiced by the individual till then. Having realised this Gandhiji wrote: ?I see many Christian Indians almost ashamed of their birth, certainly of their ancestral religion, and of their ancestral dress. (Young India, August 8, 1925).
Thus conversion does not make a Hindu a non-Hindu only. It is not wrong to say that a non-Indian is born in an Indian by conversion. And Gandhiji had said in clear terms. ?Conversion must not mean denationalisation?, (Young India, August 8.m1925). Why there are non-Indian movements in the north-east states and seceding activities in Kashmir is a practical example of this truth.
It is not easy to count the social and the family damage which conversion causes. Houses are divided. Brother hates brothers. People who were living peacefully for centuries turn hostile to each other. Gandhiji in clear terms wrote ? In Hindu households the advent of a missionary has meant the disruption of the family (Harijan, November 5, 1935).
But the motive of the missionaries, Gandhiji understood, was not limited to this small achievement of disrupting a family or a village. But they had, he knew, a much devastating motive concealed in their hearts. And the motive was nothing less than uprooting Hinduism from the soil of India and replacing it by their own faith. Thus he wrote again in Harijan: ?So far as one can understand the present (Christian) effort, it is to uproot Hinduism from her very foundation and replace it by another faith? (Harijan, March 13, 1937).
The greatest method resorted by the missionaries for conversion is offering some material help during the time of one'sneed and wresting his faith as the price. This so-called help has been named as a ?cloak of humanitarianism? by Gandhiji. He wrote: ?I hold that proselytisation under the cloak of humanitarian work is unhealthy to say the least? Why should I change my religion because the doctor who professes Christianity as his religion has cured me of some disease? (Young India, April 23, 1931).
Gandhiji has gone to the extent of calling conversion a business and wrote in Young India, ?Conversion nowadays has become a matter of business? (Young India, April 23, 1931). He even called the missionaries vendors of goods who attract others not because they have any spiritual merit but offer something in lieu of their religion. He very openly wrote in Harijan: ?When the missionary of another religion goes to them, he goes like a vendor of goods. He has no spiritual merit? (Harijan, April, 1935).
In order to popularise their religion and attract others to their faith the missionaries propagate that Christianity is the only faith through which heaven can be achieved. No other religion is capable of doing so. Therefore it is the only religion of the world. Dismissing such babbles of Christianity Gandhiji again wrote in the Harijan: ?I would also dispute your claim that Christianity is the only true religion? (Harijan, June 3, 1937).
Christians? claim that Jesus is the only son of God and that one cannot reach God except the help of Jesus has been dismissed by Gandhiji. For him Chaitanya can be equally called the son of God and that Jesus cannot be ascribed with exclusive divinity (Harijan, June 3, 1937).
Gandhiji did not end here. He went to the extent of saying that so long as the missionaries carry on their mischievous ways of converting people from other faiths to Christianity there cannot be peace in the world. Because conversion, he strongly felt, is the greatest impediment for world peace (Harijan, January 30, 1937).
The Governor Shri Bhandare should translate his words of ?following the path of Gandhiji? to action and should initiate steps to ban conversion immediately. The root has to be destroyed to avoid offshoots. The intelligent does not waste time in shouting and yelling if the house is in fire. Because, fire is not extinguished by verbal activities. So also the fire of Kandhamal will not be extinguished by mere appeals and requests. Immediate and effective action is needed.
The fire which is burning Kandhamal is not burning a particular area only. It is burning the culture of the country. It is burning a civilisation. Only a permanent stoppage to the process of conversion will stop it. The Government of India as well as all the state governments should ban conversion with immediate effect. Let the culture of the country survive. Let the civilisation survive. Let the original inhabitant of the land heave a sigh of peace.
(The writer can be contacted at Qr. No. 5R9, Bhubaneswar, Orissa; e-mail [email protected])