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T R Jawahar


'Convert me if you can', challenged Mahathma Gandhi, when confronted by a missionary who was quite incensed by the great man's strident opposition to conversions. And missionaries being what they are, they must have certainly tried. But we all know that Mohandas Gandhi did not become Malcolm Gandhi and remained a Hindu till death with 'Hey Ram' on his lips because he was very firm in his spiritual convictions besides being well aware of missionary machinations. The provocation for the Mahatma, who knew the Bible inside out, to throw the gauntlet at the Missionary was simply this: the relentless targetting of the tribals and harijans by the evangelists. Gandhi was convinced that this was pure exploitation of an oppressed people and had nothing to do with real spirituality. So to expose the utter immorality of their acts as well as the hollowness of their 'truth', he invited the missionary to first convince and convert him before preying upon hapless and desperate people who have neither the means nor the mind to verify the claims of evangelists.

Now, imagine a typical filmy scenario that is also rooted in reality. A destitute woman approaches a man for succour. Her poverty and privation has even prepared her to place her chastity on the altar. She might also have been emboldened so by a wayward, often drunkard, husband and hungry children. The woman therefore has her reasons and since she has decided to cross the threshold, the merit of her act is irrelevant any more; the focus is rather on the man. Now what would a man when confronted by such a woman do? Obviously, whatever he does, will tell on his character, irrespective of the fact that the situation was not his making. He can either turn wolf and grab the opportunity as well as the woman or tell her to keep her chastity intact and still help her out, to the extent he can. The former is commonplace and condemnable, while the latter is true charity and reflects character. Even a man of lesser morals would still turn her away because he will know that the woman's soul would not accompany her body to bed. In short, it would require a truly depraved bent of mind to exploit the woman's penury and frustration. And it constitutes rape, of both body and soul.

        It would be difficult not to draw a parallel between the above and conversions of the oppressed. Religion is an intensely personal matter and is as sacrosanct as chastity. For someone to change his religion of birth requires enormous mental effort and thorough overhaul of conscience and this cannot happen in a jiffy. It calls for intense contemplation which cannot be achieved on an empty stomach or with creditors knocking at the doors. And again, how can this solitary pursuit happen on a mass scale? But in India we see the spectacle of people willing to shed their religion of birth in droves aided by an equally eager faith waiting to gobble them up. And the reasons touted by those threatening to convert as well as the ones itching for the communion are social oppression and economic deprivation: the same factors that propelled the woman alluded to above to shed her inhibitions. By their own admission, the conversions are not prompted by any play of conscience or pursuit of spirituality, but owing to frustration and anger, genuine though they may be. In fact a leader of a Dalit outfit even says that he believes in no religion but would still want to convert just to express his anger!

        It is not just the poor and those at the lower rungs of society who are targets. Any one who is weak owing to whatever reason is a potential convert.The predators are always on the lookout - scouting in the streets, waiting outside temples, stalking stable households, perching on hillocks, scanning the hospitals and even fanning out in funerals -  for that isolated soul in torment which is deemed ripe for the picking. The infirm and the dying are 'saved' from their sin by being made to move their lips just to utter 'Christ' before breathing their last. Even corpses are not spared with many getting buried instead of being cremated after a pliable relative, often an errant son, is compensated adequately for the 'funeral expenses'. And he too gets 'saved' in the process. Indeed, emotional blackmail and psychological pressure are potent weapons in the evangelical armoury.

        Now, why this ugly haste and frantic fanaticism? Does it not betray an empty vessel? Otherwise, what sort of a true religion is it that casts a blind eye to real conscience change and instead acknowledges mere cosmetic makeovers and seeks to accommodate an emotional crowd wading in on empty stomachs and broken hearts? What kind of grouping would that be that exploits the deprivation of the masses to pander to its own depravity? What character or credibility could be attached to these soul-hunters who make it their wont to encourage and enlist renegades, deserters, defectors and desperadoes as well as entice and engulf the gullible to their fold without regard to motives or morals? Will true men of morals succumb even if these are proffered on a platter? But our evangelists commit these with impunity, without remorse but with zeal instead! Well, such acts are worse than the rape of a destitute woman. It is spiritual mass rape  -  inflicted upon a depressed class by those whose own consciences had been conveniently despatched for a sabbatical! It is perversity without peers.

        The Constitution's sanction for religious freedom comes with the caveat of morality. For those who claim that morality is a grey area and subjective, it would suffice to say that so are the terms 'secularism' and 'tolerance'. But really, morality is a very powerful and unambiguous concept if only one has one's conscience intact. Helping the poor and the weak who come to them is real charity which is moral and therefore constitutional. But making them walk to the nearest church to thank the 'saviour' amounts to crossing the moral threshold rendering the same unconstitutional. Thus, by no stretch of imagination could exploitation of the anger and hunger of a class of people be deemed moral. There is another danger lurking. Today, it is just switching faiths, but tomorrow it may be a case of changing national loyalties, with anger and hunger remaining the culprits. If we accept the rationale today, can we later contest the outcome which could be disastrous and even too late? It is therefore imperative that the gauntlet is thrown back at the offenders. But for starters, religious conversions of the kind that are now rampant will have to be stopped on the count that they are immoral. And this can be achieved constitutionally. Doubting 'Thomases' are advised to check notes with the Father, I mean, the Father of the Nation. After all, he was a very tolerant and secular man and we know what he felt. And we also know that he had read the Book and still did not feel impelled to change his name from Mohandas to Malco...No, let's leave it at that!




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