Communal Politics: Challenging Faith
Many have wondered how a Muslim can be reconverted to caste-ridden Hinduism. Who will decide if a reconverted Hindu becomes a Brahmin or Thakur or bania?
Hardnews Bureau Delhi
It is important to lend a context to the frenzy that has been created on the issue of conversion of Muslims and Christians to Hinduism. Termed ‘ghar wapasi’, this initiative is premised on the assumption that most Indian Muslims, Christians or even Sikhs were earlier Hindus who were forced to convert either due to force or allurement and thus have to be brought back to the mother religion. The first such incident took place in Agra where some Muslim rag-pickers were ‘purified’ and converted to Hinduism. Expectedly, it created a furore and the person heading the campaign was arrested. Other planned ‘ghar wapasi’ occasions were hastily abandoned.
The issue has troubled the country since Independence. In the Constituent Assembly debates there were many who felt that, due to colonial rule, Hindus had lost primacy and this needed to be restored after India won its freedom. Though the founding fathers of our republic did not entertain these thoughts, the government of independent India was wary of the proselytising of Christian missionaries. A commission was set up in the 1950s that found the conduct of the Christian missionaries destabilising and recommended action against them. While due attention has been paid to the harm that conversion can cause to a society, little has been said about the business of reconversion which is equally upsetting for those who have been following their faith for some time.
Many have wondered how a Muslim can be reconverted to caste-ridden Hinduism. Who will decide if a reconverted Hindu becomes a Brahmin or Thakur or bania? Similarly, many detractors have wondered, when the religion has no inter-caste mobility how can it be offered to an apostate?
In our society, people convert not due to force or allurement but also due to the iniquitous and unjust character of our caste system. All the reform movements that have taken place in Hinduism stemmed from the tyranny of the priestly class. The lower castes had little stake in preserving an order that was based on untouchability and that did not allow inter-caste mobility. Liberation from the misery of the present life was only possible in the next life. Every time a Muslim invasion took place against the Hindu kings, the lower castes were the first to cross over. The late Prof Muhammad Habib has described this process rather graphically. The freedom movement raised awareness about the violence inherent in the caste system, compelling leaders like Dr BR Ambedkar to embrace an egalitarian religion—Buddhism. In fact, the first challenge to Brahminism came from Lord Buddha himself. Leaders like Mahatma Gandhi tried to preserve the status quo by trying to lend dignity to the Dalits without really destabilising the caste order. India’s secular Constitution kept this issue on the backburner.
With the election of the BJP government at the centre, the debate around the primacy of the majority community and its historical grievances around conversion and so on have come out in the open. The resurrection of this debate has caused anxiety in the minds of 25 crore minority community members over what their status will be like in coming days. What compounds their misery is that their formidable vote became meaningless due to Hindu consolidation. Old paradigms have collapsed and so have the political parties that used the Muslim vote to feather their political nests. In a democracy, if your vote doesn’t carry weight then you need to worry. MIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi has broken away from the politics of the past 65 years to explore new options. Hardnews’ detailed interview is an attempt to explore the fast changing contours of Indian religious politics.