Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Reconversion to Hinduism - Challenges of Ghar Wapsi

Jug Suraiya in the Times of India

The ‘ghar wapsi’ campaign needs to rebuild the ‘ghar’ they want people to return to.
The RSS, the Hindu Mahasabha and other elements of the Sangh Parivar who want to turn India into a Hindu rashtra through mass conversions called ‘ghar wapsi’ have their work cut out for them, because they face a couple of serious obstacles in achieving their objective. And these obstacles are not their ideological opponents like Congress and Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party. Nor is it the trifling matter of the Constitution, which clearly defines India as a secular republic.
No, the real problem with the so-called ‘ghar wapsi’ campaign is that many of those whom the Parivar is urging to come wapsi-ing back to their ghar didn’t belong to the ghar in the first place, which makes it difficult, semantically at least, for them to come back to it. For a lot of people being targeted for ‘reconversion’ by the Parivar belongs to tribal communities, which by and large were animists and did not belong to the Hindu fold. Indeed, as the story of Eklavya in the Mahabharata shows, tribals were given short shrift by mainstream Hinduism with its caste hierarchy: Eklavya, a tribal, is made to cut off his thumb and give it to Dronacharya as guru-dakshina because Dronacharya fears that his ‘low-born’ pupil will outdo the ‘high-born’ Arjuna in archery.
Tribals apart, many of those being ‘reconverted’ are dalits who, if anything, have been even more badly treated than tribals by casteist Hinduism, which looked down on them as being ‘untouchables’, literally and metaphorically. It was this enforced ‘untouchability’ which impelled many dalits to embrace religions like Buddhism. How can those who were considered outcasts – or ‘outcastes’- be brought back to a Hinduism which excluded them to begin with?
But perhaps the biggest problem faced by the ‘reconversionists’ is that, unlike Islam and Christianity, Hinduism has never been a proselytising religion. Before the Arya Samaj leader Swami Shraddhanand launched a programme of mass conversions in the 1920s, Hinduism never had a tradition of conversions, much less ‘reconversions’.
So before the Hindu brotherhood of the Sangh Parivar goes about converting, or ‘reconverting’, people to Hinduism it might have to do a bit of converting of Hinduism itself so as to bring proselytising within its purview. In order to bring in recruits to swell its ranks, Hinduism might have to convert, or reinvent, itself.
But should it do so, it might run a risk. To paraphrase Groucho Marx, recruits to Hinduism could well say that they did not want to join a religion which would have them as converted members.

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