The Dark Age of Forced Conversions
There is nothing in black and white when it comes to conversion
Oswald Pereira Delhi
The concerted attacks against Christians in Orissa and sporadic incidents of violence against the minority community in other parts of the country ought to be condemned by all civilised Indians. The assaults against Christians are tantamount to violation of the Indian Constitution and the country's democratic norms built so painstakingly despite the diversity and apparent contradictions in our polity. It is sad that a country that boasts of a rich and diverse heritage and a history of religious tolerance and peaceful coexistence is developing pockmarks of fanatical intolerance.
While it is right for the civil society to condemn the planned assaults against Christians, it would be wrong to ignore the history of persecution and forced conversions perpetrated by fanatical European missionaries hundreds of years ago in India. However, it is foolish to justify the current assault against Christians as a backlash of the murder and mayhem committed by European invaders and their cohorts (read missionaries) in the name of religious conversions and the lure of a new kingdom of heaven offered to 'pagans'.
Besides, historical facts like the 'Holy Inquisition' against the Hindus in Goa by the Portuguese Catholic Church that began in 1560 and lasted for more than 250 years cannot be glossed over. Historian Alfredo De Mello had condemned, and rightly so, the perpetrators of the Goan Inquisition. He said that they were "nefarious, fiendish, lustful, corrupt religious orders which pounced on Goa for the purpose of destroying paganism and introducing the true religion of Christ."
There is historical evidence to prove that some sections of European Christians who invaded India plundered the country, indulged in organised violence against men, women and children, and forced people to convert to Christianity. Some Muslim invaders too left a similar trail of death and destruction while forcing Islam upon the sections of indigenous people. While proselytising by certain Muslim dominant forces ended a long, long time ago, evangelisation by over-zealous Christian missionaries did continue partially. There might be subtle inducements in some isolated cases. But there is no evidence to prove that this is a universal or widespread phenomenon in India.
However, two wrongs don't make a right. So there is no case for condoning the actions of Hindu fanatics because of forced conversions years ago. Those who were converted hundreds of years ago, even by force, have reconciled to their adopted faith. Those converted in recent years too seem to have willingly accepted the new faith. Besides, it's a constitutional right to choose one's religion or convert.
Christians should not be made to suffer and assaulted for adopting a faith by free will. If an Indian citizen is a Christian by choice, his will should be respected as the freedom to profess and practise your religion is a fundamental right. Besides, they are often victims, hardly the oppressors.
Personally, as a Christian, it would be traumatic for me to reverse the history of centuries and reconvert to the religion that my ancestors may have been born into - if that be the case. But I would like to put into perspective the issue of forced religious conversions.
That is what I've attempted to do in my (yet to be published) second novel (See http://revengeofthenakedprincess.wordpress.com). Called Revenge of the Naked Princess, the novel captures the dark age of forced religious conversions in India in the 16th century. This story happened 450 years ago. But the messages that it conveys are relevant even today.
The story begins on a hot, humid morning on May 28, 1560, when hundreds of beefy Portuguese soldiers armed with a monstrous six-horse driven cannon and scores of mean muskets, raid the palace of the beautiful tribal Princess Darshana Kamya Kathodi at Yehoorwada in Tana. The raid is not meant to capture the princess or the palace, but to cow her down, her soldiers and subjects into conversion. Based on the success of the small Yehoorwada kingdom raid, the Portuguese King John III, dubbed 'Grocer King', hopes to convert into Catholicism thousands of natives in mainline kingdoms in the rest of the country.
By multiplying the flock of faithful native Christians, the insomniac 'Grocer' King who spends the night tallying countless bags of spices stocked in royal storehouses in Portugal, aspires to build a captive market for spices. Rome's avowed objective of conversion is to open the gates of heaven to the natives by bringing them into the fold of the Lord of love, mercy and compassion. But the real attraction is the employment opportunities for blue-eyed priests and the lucrative market for gold and silver crosses and sacred holy water that the land of the converts offers.
That's the interesting catch: because everything is not in black and white.
The writer is a senior journalist. His debut novel was Beyond the Newsroom