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HomePageTurnerDon't demand a ban on conversions. Hinduism must become missionary religion too

Don’t demand a ban on conversions. Hinduism must become missionary religion too

In 'Dharmic Nation', R Jagannathan talks about how Hindus can make a meaningful contribution to dharma.

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If you are a Hindu looking to make a meaningful contribution to dharma, here’s one way to make a start. Ditch those ideas that hold Hinduism back. Apart from doing something about varna-based discrimination, one idea we should not invest too much hope in is demanding a ban on religious conversions, expecting it to stop the Hindu demographic decline in India. It won’t. If you are willing to give up this unworkable idea, you must necessarily adopt a corollary as your guiding principle: exhort non-Hindus to become Hindus. Hinduism must become a missionary religion once again to regain its vitality. Before we come to the hows and whys of these two related propositions, let us understand the general idea underlying it all: nature abhors a steady state. The universe is always expanding or contracting somewhere. Life is about birthing more cells in the body than killing them. A business that intends to survive has to grow customers or write its own epitaph in slow motion. Political parties must either grow or fall apart; one that is complacent with the status quo will ultimately destroy its future. This was the reality that forced the Shiv Sena to break with the BJP in Maharashtra in 2019.

Ideas are the same. If they are not developed, nurtured and grown continuously, they will shrink and eventually die. Religions are essentially ideas with physical, emotional and psychic dimensions. If they do not seek to expand, they will shrivel, even if this trend is not clearly visible in one’s own lifetime. But when it comes to a tipping point, religions may die all of a sudden. Consider what happened to Buddhism once the Islamic invasions came and destroyed their ‘buts’ (images of the Buddha). In The Decline and Fall of Buddhism in India, Ambedkar writes: There can be no doubt that the fall of Buddhism in India was due to the invasions of the Musalmans. Islam came out as the enemy of the ‘But’. The word ‘But’ as
everybody knows is an Arabic word and means an idol. Not many people however know what the derivation of the word ‘But’ is; ‘But’ is the Arabic corruption of Buddha. Thus the origin of the word indicates that in the Moslem mind idol worship had come to be identified
with the Religion of the Buddha.

Buddhism collapsed not only due to the destruction of ‘buts’ but also its inward focus. If Hinduism wants to escape this dismal fate at some future date, it has to act now to start

Now, let’s also understand why bans on religious conversions—as opposed to restrictions on the funding of proselytizing groups—are not the answer to Hinduism’s steady demographic decline in India. There are already religious conversion bans in several states, but none of them has managed to stem the decline of people professing Hindu faiths.

China frowns on many official religions, including Christianity. But underground Christians are ballooning, and, by some estimates, China could well overtake the US as the world’s largest Christian nation by 2030.

The US is the world’s largest Christian nation currently, with around 230 million professing the faith, according to World Population Review estimates. China is number 10. Christianity is in decline in the US (not to speak of Europe), as more and more people have stopped practising it. About 30 per cent of all US adults now report that they follow no religion. This decline of Christianity in the West is what is driving a huge push for conversions in blue-ocean countries like India.

It is also the reason why the Pope does not meet His Holiness the Dalai Lama, because the Vatican wants some say in how bishops are appointed in China, a new growth area for the faith. Christians understand that if they do not grow their numbers, the faith will collapse into irrelevance. They are willing to deal with the devil (i.e. communist China)
to grow. Take another ban that hasn’t worked: cow slaughter. Some 20 states across the country have banned cow slaughter, but cow smuggling and cow slaughter continue undeterred, often causing violence—even deaths—between cow smugglers and gau rakshaks (cow protectors). With a national cattle population of over 192 million, most of them female, it is almost impossible to police cattle movements or prevent slaughter. The police have enough work on their hands preventing humans from taking to violence and crime to bother much about illegal cattle transportation and slaughter.

If this is the case with an animal which needs humans to move them around for slaughter, how successful can we be in monitoring religious conversions, when a person may convert
without changing the name or even keep the knowledge within the confines of his or her home?

The only way to deter religious conversions is through intrusive policing, which no free society can allow. Even in a highly policed society (say, China), the state cannot stop you from quietly holding on to your beliefs. The courts, if anything, may not allow you to intrusively determine if someone has converted to Christianity, even if they put up a Cross on their door and go to church every Sunday. In a case involving a woman born to Hindu parents who married a Christian, a Madras High Court bench decided that she cannot be denied SC status merely because she has adopted Christian symbols and attends church. The judgment, according to a Times of India report, noted: There is no suggestion in the [administration’s] affidavit that she has abandoned her faith or that she has embraced Christianity. It is equally possible that she, as a part of a family, may accompany her husband and children for Sunday matins, but the mere fact that a person goes to church [emphasis added] does not mean that such person has altogether abandoned the original faith to which such person was born.

So, while there may be a case for banning foreign contributions that aid religious conversions, banning conversions as such will be counterproductive for Hindus. There are easy ways to get around the ban. In any case, no one can be prevented from practising their new faith against their will. This leaves developing a missionary mindset as the best possible way to regenerate Hinduism.

This excerpt from R Jagannathan’s Dharmic Nation has been published with permission from Rupa Publications.

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