Swami Agnivesh

Mass reconversions under the auspices of Mr. Joodeo's "Ghar Vapasi Andolan" have been reported from Dindoli (MP) recently. Since priests of the Arya Samaj order have been reportedly used in this programme, I feel obliged as one inspired by the Arya Samaj Movement, to address the basic issue in this context. For any reconversion enterprise to be morally and humanly legitimate, those who convert the so-called relapsed Hindus must ensure that they provide a socially hospitable home to the neo-converts. It is dishonest to trumpet "Ghar Vapasi" ("Come Home") without the willingness to offer a "Ghar" (home) to those who respond. This, if any, was the disservice that the Christian evangelists did to the dalits. They were promised a better home. But they found the millstone of the caste order still hanging around their necks!

It is high time for the truth to be spoken, even if it hurts. Hinduism is indeed in danger. But the painful truth is that the real danger is not from an external enemy, like Christianity or Islam. As a rule, the enemy within is far more dangerous than the external enemies are. Hinduism has been in danger ever since the birth-based caste order has been invented by the ingenuity of the Brahminical order to perpetuate their arbitrary advantages, consigning the lower castes to a sub-human existence. The Vaidic faith was, ironically, converted from a noble, dynamic and just social vision into an oppressive mechanism. This was done at an enormous cost to the Sanatan Dharma, turning it virtually into its opposite. Brahminical Hinduism is a contradiction and caricature, as Swami Dayanand Saraswati made bold to say, of its Vaidic ancestor.

When the early challenges to the caste order began to emerge, the keepers of the system issued the call to 'semiticize' or Islamize Hinduism! This itself should have proved, if proof indeed was necessary, that the agenda was a barely camouflaged project to protect the caste system. Rather than return to the Vaidic vision, it was found more palatable to turn Hinduism into a replica of Islam or Christianity! The strange logic was that Hinduism could be protected by making it a counterfeit copy of its enemies!

The fact that the oppressed people in their thousands, Ambedkar and his followers being an example, have been forced to leave this oppressive system should have awakened us to the need for reform. It did not. Instead, attempts have been made all along to tighten the chains of caste oppression and to arrest the process of social regeneration. Even when we do not approve all that the Christian missionaries have done in the past, we still cannot pretend that the high caste pro-status quo agenda was not at work in portraying them as the enemies of Hinduism. Today, as an Arya Samajist, I do not wish to buttress the caste Hinduism that opposes the awakening of the oppressed.

The spiritual destiny of India will be fulfilled only when the passion for justice and equality that underlies the Vaidic faith is translated into a social reality in the path of which the caste order is the major stumbling block.

Condemning or rewarding anybody simply on the basis of birth is not only incompatible with true religion, but also an affront to rudimentary justice. That being the case, the need of the hour is not to re-convert a few dalit Christians, but to re-convert Hinduism back to the Vaidic faith. The Arya Samaj is duty bound to work towards this noble goal as long as it remains faithful to the spirit and mission of Swami Dayanand Saraswati.

The hype about reconversion is based on the premise that tribals were converted to Christianity by inducements and coercion. This is a hypothesis that cannot stand the scrutiny of common sense. There are strict laws against such forcible conversions in Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Manipur. Other states are free to enact similar legislation. The obvious fact is that the dalits who converted to Christianity knew that they stood to lose much by way of material advantages such as reservations. This should have prevented them from converting. If, in spite of this, thousands have embraced other faiths it was entirely due to the oppressiveness of the caste order that denied them freedom, human rights and dignity as was the case in Meenakshipuram.

As against the absolutization of birth within the caste order, the Varna Vyavastha that the Vedas envisage, base itself on action, talent and aptitude (Guna, Karma, Swabhava). This is clearly expounded in the Purush Sukta of Rigveda. It was further supported by Lord Krishna in the Gita where he maintained - Chatur Varnyam Maya Srishta Guna, Karma, Vibhagashah. Vaidic faith envisages a dynamic social order in which every individual is free to exercise herself/himself fully, and attain maximum growth and fulfillment. It is a society characterized by equality of opportunity which is incompatible with birth based privileges.

The most important choice that every human being must have is the right to choose his temporal and eternal destiny. Once gunas rather than birth becomes the basis for evaluation, an individual becomes free to be a Brahmin or a Shudra. Turning Brahmanism into a label of birth has emptied it of all its significance. The caste system has robbed the Indian society of its dynamism and has been mainly responsible for our successive subjugation by external forces. Like the license Raj that protected the monopoly of a few at the expense of many, the caste order, further crippled by fatalism, has kept our life and society paralyzed for centuries. A better alternative is to liberalize conversions, which is inevitable after having liberalized everything else! Why shouldn't religions compete among themselves on equal terms to prove and improve their worth by deepening their social consciousness and human commitment? It is a cheaper alternative to keep other religions in castes just because the majority religion prefers to remain in caste.

Now, consider the anxiety about foreign funding for Christian work in India. While it is true that large amounts of money continue to be received by Christian agencies, it is also true that these funds support services for the neglected sections of our society. Given the general economic backwardness of the Christian community (the majority of its members being from the dalit backgrounds), it cannot be expected to run thousands of institutions and welfare programmes for the weaker sections without any overseas aid. Rather than resent this, it would be nobler for the Hindu community to emulate their example and work for people's empowerment. Unfortunately, for all its numerical and material advantages, the Hindu community has nothing comparable to be proud of. If only we were to use the massive wealth accumulated in our temples, or the money we burn up on our festival days, to help and educate the poor we would have shown Hinduism in better light.

The best way to worship Saraswati is to launch an all out war on illiteracy by starting schools and colleges with the resources that we have. We shall honour Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth, best by burning less crackers, practicing thrift and building up the capital required for charitable services. Max Weber points out that the economic progress in Europe was made possible by the practice of thrift as taught by Christianity. In contrast, we seem to have made a virtue of wasting whatever resources we have. It rarely occurs to us to set apart anything in the religious context for humanitarian efforts.

As an Arya Samajist, I feel uneasy about the collusion between the protagonist of the caste order and certain sections in the Arya Samaj, as in the reconversion hoax reported for Dindoli. The Arya Samaj priests are being used to reconvert ex-Hindus only because Brahmanical Hinduism has no place for converts. It is a way of neutralizing Christians without compromising the caste order! Patronizing such a project amounts to a betrayal of the true legacy of Swami Dayanand Saraswati. Swamiji's zeal for bringing back relapsed Hindus was matched by his revulsion for the caste order which he sought to dismantle. This cost him his life. No Arya Samijist therefore can lend himself to anything that makes a mockery of Swamiji's call "Back to the Vedas!" and his passion for reform.

The more violence is practised to defend the caste system, the more Hinduism will get discredited in the eyes especially of the coming generation. In the days ahead we can no longer count on old loyalties and blind faith. An age of free choice, symbolized by the super market where people push trolleys of personal tastes, has already come upon us. We had better improve the quality of our brand rather than cry wolf against other brands. If the Tatas had to do it in the field of automobiles, it may be unavoidable for us to address this urgent task in the religious sphere.



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