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By T R Jawahar

"Give unto Caesar what is Caesar's and
give unto God what is God's"
                                                  - Bible


Societal inequalities and economic deprivation are evils that haunt all people, irrespective of their religion. It is a misnomer to imagine that religion can address these issues and it needs real courage to admit this. Particularly so when the missionaries are looking for just this confession so that they can make their entry with doles and false promises. But admit we must, despite the evangelical eagles hovering overhead scavenging for festering souls for the picking, if we are to put an end to the despicable scourge of conscience-kidnaps. Unless the purpose of religion is put in the proper perspective, false faiths and their champions are bound to exploit the gullible.

Ensuring food, shelter, medication and education for the people is the duty of the State. It was the case with monarchy and remains so with democracy too. Let alone Welfare States where the government's role needs no elucidation, even in capitalist economies the State maintains a constant vigil over these areas despite privatisation of virtually every activity. Having said that, it has also to be stated that it does not preclude other agencies from extending or enhancing these services to the people, but the point is that the primary responsibility still vests with the State. It is the State that should be put in the dock for its inability to take care of its subjects on those counts.

Religion on the contrary caters to the spiritual aspirations of a person and helps him in his quest for god and such other higher truths. Its concern should be the eternal and it must not get bogged down by the temporal. Though it may be argued how spirituality can thrive on empty stomachs, the only counter that can be placed is that hunger is quite secular in nature and stalks all humans irrespective of their faith. But it could never be deemed the duty of religion to provide for the basic needs alluded to above. Pitting religion against economics is like asking a hockey team and cricket team to play against each other. The resultant confusion needs no description. Under no stretch of imagination could it be claimed that it is the responsibility of temples to first provide food and education to devotees. Temples are primarily for prayer and even if the aforementioned activities are carried out there, they are purely incidental and secondary, lofty and welcome though they may be. This has been the case in India over centuries with piety remaining an inner quest while bread, butter and its spread are ensured by a combination of economic activity and State intervention. However, Hindu scriptures being exhaustive have also produced extensive treatises on these aspects, charting out clear guidelines for people w.r.t their conduct in society, politics and business too. But the goal remained and remains God.

 But the advent of the Church and Missionaries marked a significant and decisive shift. The missionaries took over these key areas of social action as their main tools to spread Christianity in India. Whatever service was proffered was touted as gifts from Jesus, the ubiquitous string that was always attached to charity and this was, not surprisingly, accompanied by campaigns of calumny against Hindu gods and practices. It would require tons of perversity to describe their acts as even remotely religious. But the charade came to stay in all its vile potency. The prevailing systems of education and medicine were meticulously dismantled on the pretext that they were primitive, when they were actually not, and a vacuum was consciously created by the colonial regime for the missionaries to step in. The usurpation of this role of the State by the missionaries went unchecked owing to the active support of the English rulers for whom the Church was the most potent force, more reliable than even the army or navy, in securing and strengthening their imperial stranglehold over India.

And this hangover continues in the secular dispensation of independent India till today, something though outwardly benign all the same cocks a snook at the very foundations of governance. This was evidenced when Christian institutions in TN closed the schools run by them for a day, when actually they were funded by grants and fees of secular taxpayers and secular students respectively, to protest an ordinance that sought to call their religious bluff. They had the gumption to do this, and most unabashedly at that, because they held, or they thought they held, absolute sway over what should rightly be a State's prerogative.

 In this context, how can conversions be deemed a panacea for social evils or economic disparities? It is understandable if someone gets converted after losing faith in his religion as a means of attaining higher spiritual truths. But can social oppression or economic deprivation be deemed a legitimate cause for switching religion when it is not the job of religion to ensure food and shelter? How can Hinduism be responsible for the impoverishment of a people or the inequities when it is actually the secular State -- India not being a Hindu rashtra - that has failed to correct them, particularly when it is vested with all the constitutional powers for alleviating the same? If these are the yardsticks for the success of a religion then can it not be concluded that all religions have singularly failed the faithful, given the global spread of destitution and racism?

 Again, at a micro level, can it be proved that there is a societal uplift for those who have converted or that their economic status has changed for better for good? Never. If anything, the converts carry their social baggage to the new religion and any prosperity that comes their way remains purely temporary, often confined to the conveyance to and fro the nearest church, besides some pocket money for the day, not to mention the pocket-sized book. But on the day of conversion, it is a major media event, a display of social revolution, a political watershed and of course, for the beneficiary religion, a grand groundswell of its flock. But after that it is business as usual for the converts, whose toil now continues under new masters - shall we call them 'Caste Christians' in line with the secular media parlance namely, 'Caste Hindus'? And instead of that ignominious tumbler it may be a ceramic cup now, but which not certainly is the same cup their new master sips his morning tea from. No saving grace, here either!

Conversion by exercise of conscience is the only real conversion and is bound to be a rarity. All others, be they owing to anger, poverty, social ostracisation etc etc are nothing but cosmetic changes, as they are not accompanied by any change of heart as often vouchsafed by the potential converts as well as their mentors themselves. Pray, how many well-fed, socially mobile, happy people have the missionaries converted so far? How is it that only under-nourished or uneducated people get converted invariably? Those citing economic and social reasons for converting are actually challenging the State and not the religion, here, Hinduism. Also, the loyalty of those getting converted is directed towards the new faith for 'saving' them with a proportional hatred for the old faith as well as the State for 'letting them down'. Condoning such conversions would not only be tantamount to conceding the prerogative of the State to Bishops, but also giving way to insurgency in the long run, as we are witnessing in the North-East. Instead, does it not become the duty of the State to ensure that the challenge is taken head on in national interest as well as for preserving public order? But for this to happen the country has to first emerge out of the secular smokescreen!



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