By - Swami Agnivesh

The visit of Swami Nischalanda Saraswati, the Puri Shankaracharya, to Manoharpur, where the misguided religious fanatics burned alive the distinguished Christian missionary, Graham Staines and his two little sons and his idea of setting up Swastik temples for the dalit reconverts to Hinduism are extremely regrettable and retrogrades. Unfortunately, the institution that he represents stands discredited on account to a successor of legitimization that his predecessor, Swami Niranjan Dev Teerth, accorded to the practice of sati as something that reflects the glory of the Vedas. The rest of the country has not forgotten that this very swamiji dared stopped a woman from reciting the Vedas in the senate hall of the Calcutta University.

The spirit of this obscurantism approach animates the present Shankaracharya's advocacies. If he had any spiritual sensitivity, he would have used his Manoharpur visit to express his anguish at the monstrous inhumanity that was done in the name of Hinduism and called upon the people to live by the true spirit of the Vedas. Instead, he has chosen to float the repugnant idea of 'swastik temples' for the reconverts, seeking to grant a new lease of life to the discriminatory spirit of the caste system. I recall in this context that his predecessor believed that dalits should have no access to the Nathadware temple in Rajasthan. They were, instead, to be satisfied with the charity of being allowed to stand in the street and bow down to the spire of the temple.

The Shankaracharya would do a far greater service to Hinduism if he were to convert the Hindu fold back to the true light of the Vedas. Would he have the courage to protest, as Swami Dayanand Saraswati had done, against the distortion of the Vaidic vision that sees God not as an idol, but in terms of Universal Spirituality? We have had enough of this bathing of idols in milk and honey, while we condemn the living images of God-the people-to live in poverty, misery, discrimination and inhumanity. If only a fraction of the temple income were to be used in uplifting the people condemned to centuries-old poverty and destitution. The very reason for conversion to any other faith could have been abolished. God is not honoured through shraaddha-the worship of the dead-but by serving the living, as indeed Graham Staines was doing.

The Vaidic view of life and society militates against the caste system and the perpetuation of any birth-based or gender-based advantage or disadvantage. As a follower of Swami Dayanad Saraswati. I am willing to enter into an open debate with Nischalnand Saraswati or any other Vaidic scholar on the issue of the scriptural basis for the caste system. It is embarrassingly dishonest to plunger into reconversion to Hinduism without, at the same time, not reforming the Hindu fold of those very oppressive factors that prompted the converts to leave it in the first place. This amounts to playing games both with the lives of the people and with the sanctity and integrity of the religion that the Shankaracharya tries to protect. It is high time religious leaders in this country recognised that social justice is the essence of true spirituality. Being a Shankaracharya is a matter of awesome true spirit of the scriptures on which one's own peeth or religious establishment but also to the responsibility must be extended, in the end, also to social wellbeing and the fulfillment of our shared national destiny of unity amidst diversity. An approach to religion that remains indifferent to the burning issues of life and makes much of non-issues condemns itself. I call upon the Shankarachrya to desist from this obscurantist project and to work towards reforming the Hindu society and healing the nation of its many maladies, wounds and divisions.

Swami Agnivesh

(for Religions for Social Justice)


By- Rev. Valson Thampu

The Puri Shankaracharya’s mission to reconvert the converts back to Hinduism and to set up Swastik temples to accommodate the returning religious refugees in the Hindu fold can only serve to raise the communal temperatures in this country. It has already had the predicable effects of alarming the saner members of the Hindu community as well as activating the hawkish elements in the Parivar, escpcially the YHP.

It is appropriate to recall here that it was the call exactly two years ago of the Shankaracharya of Kanchi. Swami Jitendra, to ban conversion that fuelled the anti-christian violence in various parts of India. Ironically, the victims of violence in most instances have been Christian social workers who had nothing to do with conversions. The is proof enough that conversion in not the real issue, or is not as great an issue as it is made out to be. By launching his mission with a visit to Manoharpur Swami Nischalananda Saraswati has established an intriguing connection between the communal turbulence in the two years and the envisaged scope of this present initiative.

The Shankarachraya’s right to reconvert is indisputable. Whether it is by ‘force of fraud’ is better left to his own conscience. But it strains one’s credulity that anyone will abandon his faith for the dubious distinction of being allowed to worship in Swastik temples that will stand a perpetual monument to his social, religious and economic backwardness. Be that as it may, and irrespective of what the Shankaracharyas might do from time to time, the time has come for the Christian community in India to re-think the issue of conversion, in relation to the following basic principles.

As long as the Christian community continues to be infected by the caste mentality or practices, it has no moral right to accept people of other faiths into its fold through conversion. The right to practice, preach and propagate one’s faith must rest on one’s duty to honour the true spirit of that faith. Conversions is not what a human being does to another. It is a miracle that happens between a human being and God The preaching of the Good News and the incarnation of God’s love through compassionate service make a person disposed towards conversion. To that extent alone is conversion a religious duty. Deriving any advantage, directly or indirectly, out of the conversion of a fellow human being is utterly repugnant to the spirit of Christianity. The fundamental Christian task is the building up of a society of righteousness, and not the numerical expansion of its fold. The spiritual task is the transformation of individuals and societies, undertaken in total selflessness. Conversion must be seen as a vertical spiritual ferment leading to reconciliation with God, and not seen in terms of a horizontal flow into a religious community. The spiritual renewal and social reformation of the Christian community, rather than the conversion of people of other faiths into the Christian fold, should be the top priority today. I would welcome a voluntary moratorium on conversions to the Christianity, without any propagate" the faith, until this basic task is addressed adequately. There is neither any clarity of understanding nor any consensus on the issue of conversion among the Indian Churches. Ironically, the fiery defenders of this right do not believe in conversion, while those who actually propagate Christianity are too busy to talk or too remote to be visible. Like in a nightmare, the protagonists and the adversaries are alike uncommitted to the issue over which the battle-lines are drawn. Clarity is of the essence of spirituality. The Church would do well by herself if the challenge thrown by the Shankaracharya is turned into an opportunity to put its own house in order, which she must do even otherwise.

(The Revd. Valson Thampu)

Founder- Member; Religions for Social Justice

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