By Jai Prakash Ojha:
The opposition and the BJP are gunning for each other. Tempers have flared up in the wake of the programme organised by RSS affiliates and certain Hindu groups in Agra where more than fifty Muslim families converted to Hinduism. The RSS affiliates are not apologetic about their efforts as they feel the event to be the ‘home coming’ of Hindus after their conversion to Islam. They have planned such conversion drives in certain parts of UP like Aligarh, Bareilly and Kushinagar, sending panic waves among minorities and the state administration.
The Modi Government is being blamed for the rising incidents of religious intolerance. Apart from mild admonishments, the government has maintained a studied silence on these volatile developments, lending credence to the opposition’s charge of them being hand-in-glove with the RSS. The Modi government, on its part, has done well to advocate for the passage of a strong anti-conversion act. It is relevant to mention that certain states like Gujarat and Chhattisgarh have implemented anti-conversion laws. The Constitution of India (Article 25) gives certain religious freedom rights to the individuals like the freedom to profess, practise and propagate one’s religion. Often, this right has been subverted by religious groups for facilitating conversions.
There is nothing wrong if conversion is through conviction or change in heart but what if conversions take place through allurements and coercion? Activities of Christian missionaries in parts of states having significant tribal population like Jharkhand, Odisha and Chhattisgarh have raised the eyebrows of the right wing groups for a considerable period of time and perhaps, this was what culminated in the horrific incident in Odisha a few years back, in which a Christian priest, Dr. Graham Staines, was burnt alive by an animated mob.
Conversions are not new to India from a historical perspective. Conversions happened under Muslim rule in India, under the Maurayans who patronised Buddhism and under colonial rule engendered by Christian missionaries. The Hindu Renaissance period in the 19th and 20th centuries, marked by the arrival of personalities like Raja Rammohan Roy, Vivekananda and Dayanand Swarswati, was nothing but attempts at restoring the pride of the Hindu religion and doing away with the various ills restricting its growth as an all inclusive religion. Don’t forget the Shuddi campaign of the Arya Samaj to stem the tide of increasing conversions away from Hindu religion. In present day context, stands vary according to political affiliations. If the trend is towards Hinduism in the conversion incidents, the leftists-socialist-Congress terms it as majoritarianism and communalisation but if things go in the reverse gear, they become reticent and ambiguous in their utterances. The reason is crystal clear—vote bank politics.
Such an unfortunate row over conversions is stalling the legislative business of the House and some very important bills are being held, stalling governance and development, the twin planks on which the electorate gave resounding verdict in favour of the Modi Government. The BJP led Government can’t ride roughshod over RSS as the party has an umbilical connection with the RSS. Despite a visible Modi wave, the hard work put in by the RSS cadre in ensuring his victory at the recent hustings can’t be ignored and yes, Modi is the quintessential RSS man, nurtured by it.
The installation of the saffron government at the centre has emboldened the Hindu groups like VHP, Bajrang Dal etc who for long had been lying low. The RSS needs to rein in these groups to prevent the Modi government from derailment and instead, focus on its agenda. The social fabric of the nation needs to be protected from being torn asunder.
Such incidents are a telling reminder of the stark reality that even today there are millions who are leading their lives under acute poverty and distress. There are millions whose mere presence is considered polluting by the same religion to which he or she belongs. The political parties, the civil society and the state need to take care of these teeming millions before fighting over conversions and raising a frightening picture of the change in demographic structure.