Conversions and ‘re-conversion’ are alien to Hinduism: RSS should learn from Adi Shankaracharya

You are either born a Hindu or not, with no tradition of conversion or re-conversion in Hinduism. Therefore, talk of reconversion is against tenets of Hinduism. What are Hindu bigots afraid of anyway?

Conversions and ‘re-conversion’ are alien to Hinduism: RSS should learn from Adi Shankaracharya

Sujata Anandan

I am no bigot or Hindutva ideologue. But as a devout Hindu, I am a purist and do not believe in conversion - or even reconversion – of any one from any other religion to mine. Because Hinduism was never a proselytising religion, you are born into it or not. Anyone who says whole Islamic nations must be converted to Hinduism is no Hindu at all, for otherwise he would not violate the tenets of this way of life, which are to live and let live, to be non-violent, civilized and tolerant, refined...

Are our Hindutva bigots any or all this? Far from it. They should take a step back and look at how they are once again endangering Hinduism by calling for genocide, lynchings, forcible reconversions et al. That kind of violence in Hindu society, which included bloody wars and killings of our own, gave birth to Jainism and Buddhism with whole kingdoms switching to those religions, leaving Hinduism in danger of extinction. That was the era before Islam or Christianity and no one was converting Hindus to any religion but they were still taking to Buddhism and Jainism in large numbers on their own.

Their fast-depleting numbers alarmed Adi Shankarachaeya, who then traversed the length and breadth of the country setting up five peeths infusing Hinduism with the best, most noble and civilisational elements of Buddhism and Jainism -which were also ways of life – leaving Hindus not much to choose from between the three ways of life.

In later centuries this capacity to absorb and assimilate the best of other religions became the hallmark of Hinduism and prevented it from the onslaught of Islamic and Christian conquerors, including the Moghuls, British, French, Dutch and Portuguese – India kept its languages, traditions, festivals, customs and costumes by and large intact, adapting or even adopting what was essential to the times and the era – Chhatrapati Shivaji's court regalia was taken from the Moghuls, for example, because that costume was more suited to a warrior race and for horse-riding but today it is in the realm of just fancy dress competitions. But wearing it in no way prevented him from worshipping Bhavani or diluted his religion in any way. So, what are the bigots afraid of today?

Thus, I ask - who will save Hinduism from the dangers that Hindutva bigots – and not Muslims or Christians - are putting it to? Certainly not the Satans in saffron at Haridwar who call for genocide and bloodshed or the rich fat cats in white, looting the poor, fooling the rich, exploiting women and children instead of spending their days in study and meditation as did the Shankaracharyas of yore.

Today, however, one Shankaracharya is a former journalist, another the 42nd choice for the peeth, a third played himself out by taking political sides, a fourth, no longer around, was once sent to jail for criminal activities- it seems today's so-called saints do not have the moral fibre of those ancients from even the turn of the last century.

I remember my elders talking of an aunt of ours falling in love with a Muslim man and refusing to marry anyone else, threatening to remain unwed or take her life it she was forced into a marriage not of her choice.Her desperate and exasperated parents then decided to appeal to the Shankaracharya who was once upon a time regarded as the head of every family and whose name routinely appeared on all wedding invitations as the host. They thought they had it sealed and the girl was resigned to her loss for the Shankaracharya’s word was etched in stone for such families and no one dared to defy him.

When they reached the Shankaracharya's seat, he first closeted himself with the girl's parents. Tell me the truth, he told them. “Without prejudice.” They didn't dare lie when the next question he asked was if they really thought the girl could live without the man she loved. Their reluctant answer was – no.

Then it would be a sin to keep them apart, he decreed.

After meeting the stunned girl and convincing himself she really loved the man she wanted to marry, he even blessed the marriage by allowing his name to be printed on the wedding card. Society did not like it but no one dared to oppose. The couple on their part did not let the Shankaracharya down, either. They lived a harmonious existence all their lives and there were no petty differences over religious practices in that household, each supporting the other’s festivals and children celebrating both.

Love jihad? Who had heard of something as silly and frivolous as that? India was a newly unified country; we had a Constitution giving equal rights to all and religions were strictly in the personal domain. Anyone wishing to convert did so for individual and not political reasons as some Ansari did in the presence of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and turned himself into a Brahmin Tyagi. He could not even remember his new name.

Apart from the fact that the Shastras say you have to take several births to be born a Brahmin (is that not why the upper castes harass the Dalits so much and Dalits accept it as their lot?) that reminded me of a story from Mexico, where a Catholic priest was said to have converted a native to Christianity, gave him the name Alphonso and told him not to eat meat or drink on Fridays.

Imagine his horror when he came across Alphonso in a tavern on a Friday (why was the priest himself there, I have always wondered) and saw him sitting with a pint of beer and eating meat!

“Alphonso, why are you eating meat on a Friday!” the priest admonished him.

An unrepentant Alphonso replied, “I am not eating meat, I am eating fish.”

“I can see it is meat!” snapped the priest.

“Oh no, Father!” replied Alphonso. “I sprinkle some water on the meat and tell it - from now on you no meat, you fish! So you see, I am not eating meat, I eat fish!”

This is how all gharwapasis are going to be like - and that is the happier part provided the bigots do not push those reconverted into bondage and slavery again. As they did with the converts in the past, forcing them into conversion in the first place.

May the New Year bring bigots better wisdom and sanity. Else India is doomed.

(The writer is Consulting Editor, National herald, Mumbai. Views are personal)

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