Posts tagged ‘conversion’

Gandhi on Conversion by SM MichaelSVD – my reply

This is my response to the following blog by S.M. Michael.

Fr. Sebastian Maria Michael S.V.D., is professor in sociology and anthropology at the University of Mumbai. Also the director of the Andheri Institute of Indian Culture in Mumbai, he was appointed consultor of the Pontifical Council for Culture, in January 2009. Contributing editor of “MissionToday”, a quarterly published from the Sacred Heart Theological College, Shillong, Meghalaya, his paper on “Christian Sannyasin’s view of Religious Freedom” can be found in”A Dialogue: Hindu-Christian Cosmology and Religion.”


I found ‘Gandhi on Conversion’, a very shallow article of the whole issue of Conversion by  Fr. S.M.Michael SVD(Society of the Divine Word) I would have expected him to be more judicious and prudent in the usages of words and quotes  for clarification, support, or accusations.
I fail to understand why the whole debate on conversion should be straitjacketed with Gandhi’s life and works.- and a few reformers. It is true that when one wants to substantiate one only picks what is relevant. And it is true that Gandhi who is called the Father of the nation and who is being held by the Congress as its unique leader did state that ‘If I had power and could legislate, the first thing I would ban is conversions” It is puzzling why Fr.Michael thinks that Gandhi’s views on conversion are very limited by his location in the social structure from where he came. Does that mean that one’s views will depend on world wide roaming and outside a social structure to make it unlimited? To me it seems a crude and immature way of evaluation of ideas and statements made by renowned persons. For that matter every Indian has a location in a social structure-whether we like it or not. Every country in the world has its own social structure. Be it the UK, USA Australian etc. Does this limitation on the basis of location in the social structure apply only to Gandhi or to Ambedkar, Jotirao Phule et al and even Fr Michael SVD. The validity is that from that location alone one views the community, the nation and the world. Can one have any other choice? Along with this, the experiences one had, has, will also influence one’s perception.Greatness depends on the ability to gauge the merits and the demerits of that structure and strife to remove the oppression of that structure. I think that’s what Gandhi tried to do by his own example and his different works. For a personal note I must confess I am no admirer of the whole range of Gandhian philosophy or his political thought.
In trying to compare the Gandhi’s view on conversion with Ambedkar Fr Michael SVD has tripped on his very premise on conversion.. Each one will have one’s own perception one’s own “charisma” But did Ambedkar become a Christian? Can Fr Michael SVDalso give the reasons why Ambedkar rejected Christianity? Because he found the social structure as oppressive within the official church and its followers as in the outside society. Fr Michael SVD should know that one should not try to remove the dust in another’s eye when one has a beam in one’s own. So when Michael svd falls back on Ambedkar’s statement that he is “born a Hindu but will not die as one” he should go the whole way and not be selective to prove his point- which he accused the votaries of Sangh Parivar of quoting Gandhi on conversion for their selective use of Gandhian views. Not even the Congress party uses any of Gandhian views .For that matter Swami Vivekananda’s remark ‘Be born in a religion,but do not die in a religion’ shows the great heights to which this renowned monk of India attained. Heavens do not follow a divisive policies or a social structure and when one attains that bliss everything falls-there is no religion.
The author has brought in Raja Rammohan Roy(1772-1833) and again made a comparison to Dayanand Saraswati.(1824-1883) I am unable to touch the point which he is laboring to make. Every reformer and religious leader has tried to bring in changes and reform religion. Reform was not only restricted to the Hindu religion. Fr Michael SVD will admit that in Christianity too there are at least two major trends-one progressive and the other conservative .There are many more- neither this nor that and now the recent trend is to simply discard the Roman Catholic church teachings. This is what has happened and happening in Europe. No wonder the Church has focused on India. Islamic countries are closed to them and it will not dare to convert. China is closed and the Christians countries are no longer Christian in the real term so that leaves India for its business of conversion. Even the Popes had their own biases depending on their world vision and their goals.
Every Pope thought he wanted to reform the church and mind you every Pope thought he was infallible. But here we have Hindu religious leaders and Hindu reformers who do not make such dogmatic claims but are striving in their way to purify Hinduism, to invigorate it and to disseminate the substance and remove the chaff from it. We had Pope JohnXX111 who through his Vatican documents wanted to reform the antiquated and stifling church. He brought in pluralism and an openness which was refreshing but did not find full support.
I would not agree that Gandhi’s attitude to the ‘Untouchables’ was derogatory. When he considered them less intelligent than the cows it was only a way of saying that they will not be able to distinguish between the relative merits of Islam, Hinduism and Christianity. May be it was crudely put forth. But this is applicable to the majority of us-the common people are least bothered and will not perceive and discern the differences. Why does the church constantly refer to its followers as ‘flock’ of sheep does it not indicate that Catholics  are as dumb as the flock and that they will simply follow with no ability to question, discern and argue. Why then does the church continue to use this derogatory term even now in the 21st century?At least in comparison the cow is a higher animal-it is worshipped and its milk is next best to the mother’s milk. So Fr Michael SVD need not pull out that remark by Gandhi and use it as a yardstick to pass a judgment that he was derogatory of the Harijans. He does acknowledges that Gandhi repeated harped on the evils of Untouchability, he adopted a dalit girl as his daughter, he decided to live with the Untouchables  to become one with them, he started the Harijan Sevak Sangh and of course he symbolically called the Untouchables Harijans(children of God) all this is swept aside and the comparison to the cow negates everything else. This is simply ridiculous.

Can Michael cite one from the Catholic church who could match the same zeal and works that Gandhi had and did .Yet the Catholic Church wants to convert the Harijans- precisely because till date the poor harijans are not able to discern and not bothered to discern the difference between religions .They are engaged to keep their fires burning, to grapple with the daily needs. It is not to every dalit home that  Rahul Gandhi will visit to realize still in what conditions they are and the Church with its towering spires within a hamlet of the deprived Harijans stand as a defiance of Truth and an arrogance of power and prestige unrelated to the reality. The aam admi is a slogan and the symbolism of which Fr Michael now talks of, is revealed in the various schemes the Congress has worked out  and it is to these signs and symbols that the ‘flock’ was asked to ardently appeal to the heavens to be voted back in power. It is for this party that ‘fatwas’ were issues to the ‘flock’ to keep the symbolism alive. So why look down on tokenism Fr Michael SVD to make an effective thesis on Hinduism and what the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is all about should study Sanatana Dharma –then he will understand what Hindutva really is instead of branding it as militant. It is completely wrong to state that “the concern for social reform at the beginning of the Indian nationalist movement was given a back seat with the emergence of militant Hindu nationalism.

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh was established in 1925” precisely to give an impetus to the national movement. We were against not only a colonizer but also the colonizer was a proselytizer. The role of the RSS was accepted by Nehru and other national leaders.It is sheer ignorance to put the national movement and the reform movement on the same level. Michael SVD utters the word ‘militant’ as though it is a bad word! Bad only when Hindus are militant. Are the Evangelical churches not militant-Is the Catholic Church not militant?

A Hindu country with its majority people Hindus will talk, act and respond to the colonizer from a Hindu ethos. A nation, a national culture is basically Hindu. Why is it that when catholic/Christians hear the word ‘Hindu’ they suffer from some sort of a phobia? But when one refers to Christian countries, Islamic countries there is no resentment. That was the reality-a Hindu ethos that engulfed this nation. It is in this background that the demand was made by Fr Jerome D’ Souza sj in the constituent Assembly for Arts 29,30 and 31.This on the plea to safeguard the Christian ethos. When you talk of a Christian ethos and demanded for its safeguard in the Indian Constitution a Fundamental Right does the Hindus not have a right to identify nation and national culture as basically Hindu. Hindus do not have divided loyalties. Islam and Christianity had their loyalties outside India and were migrant religions. These did not divest religion from their respective cultures-Muslim culture and Christian culture.

Truth hurts. Hindus can be burned, raped, their swamijis can be butchered-their ashrams can be ransacked, no voice will be raised and neither Rome nor the European Union will even utter a whimper. But rape of a nun, push down a few rickety rackety halls called churches –Rome will through its internuncio ask the government for explanation, the European Union will at its summit express its concern to the Prime Minister who had to confess that the Kandhamal incident was a blot on India. What does this show? That Christians have their leaders and their loyalties outside India. The Hindus- don’t fall back on any outsider because they have no loyalties outside, since they have no masters outside. Even the cause for the militancy is not taken into account. Hindus have been massacred, Hindu pandits have been driven away from the Valley and are today refugees in their land-this has to be taken in their stride and no justice is demanded. Should the Hindus just sit back and watch this show-talk of militancy? Injustice after injustice is being heaped on them and Michael mentions ‘militancy’.
Today if there is a rethink whatever be the motive to inculturation then it clearly goes to prove that Catholic official church was western in its content and Roman in its outlook and culture, The Hindu religion belong and sprang from this soil and was not imported. It is part and particle of this soil. It sprang from within. The Spirit did not move in India two thousand year ago only-but was and is and ever will be. There is surely an amalgamation of nation, nationalism and culture. The point to be noted is with the forcing down of Christianity by the economic and political invaders they tried to thrust their culture also. Because for them religion and culture was one too. Hence we have Christian names –does not matter if they are pagan names. Why is the Catholic Church now going in for inculturation? Because it wants an identify with the Indians is the best explanation; and the worst -so that it can easily proselytize the gullible people –make the
herds of cows into flocks of sheep.
The word ‘militant’ is antithesis for Sanatana Dharma.and to Hinduism.Had it been militant world religions feeling from their own birth countries would not have found a place here. Militancy is something inherent in Christianity right from its inception. I will not blame Michael SVD because in the seminar training the history of the church is only a watered down version. This is done purposely because Church history will put to shame any decent human being-the  violence, the blood letting, the persecution history of the church, its deeply entrenchment in corruption, conspiracy ,the papacy and the kings-the illegitimacy of the papacy, papal power play with politics, all this is world history. The Catholics be they priests and lay people hardly know about this. Today they see the benevolent church patronizing them, feeding the poor and going about doing social work. It is this that Jesus called the white washed tombs and the worm eating corpses within. It is this that Jesus branded as hypocrites.

To whom did the Inquisition belong, from where did the mafia originate? Who burned men and women on the stakes? What were the Crusades? What kind of weapons of torture did Rome use? Some are still kept as exhibits in the Vatican. This is the parampara of the Catholic Church. The past has a link with the present and points to the future. What is hypocritical is the accusing finger pointing towards the Hindus-the Sangh Parivars and all its allied organizations Can anyone accuse the Hindus and Hinduism of this kind of massacre, brutality and perversity? Yes, the caste system can be put at the doorstep of Manu and is the only blot but which today the Catholic Church follows more rigidly. The Congress uses it and perpetuates it for its vote bank politics etching and re- etching it into the soco-political fabric of the nation for its power.This is reinforced by Christianity. Different churches, same church divided
into two-cemeteries are separate-for the Harijans and the upper caste. Even the corpses are segregated and Untouchablity followed in the very letter and spirit. I would reject the tokenism and the symbolic gestures by the Catholic Church.

In our own country what was the spree of conversion? What were the methods used to convert people-if it was open force, destruction of thousands of temples and idols, Hindu icons, Christianization of lives and live styles- today it is camouflaged with social work from distribution of food, to seats in the educational institutions. The destruction of thousands of temples was right and the damaging of a few churches under great provocation today is wrong. The building of churches on every available space-on government poorumboke land is right but the building of Ram temple –the faith of a people is wrong. Should the Ram temple then be built in Mecca or in Vatican?

The whole debate on Conversion should be thrown open and not held within the parameters of Pandita Ramabai,Gandhi,Jotirao Phule,Ambedkar .We are experiencing the tensions, the ruptures, the destruction of the culture ,the invasion of India by other religions, the global interference in our affairs, the poverty exploitation, the cows becoming ‘flocks’, the commercialization of conversion, the business that is conversion all this and more we have data and our own personal experiences. Conversion is a process-a life long of seeking and a free choice make after enlightenment.With ignorance where can discernment come-with hunger eating your entrails where can free option come. So money plays a role and this in the name of god and religion. Let the debate on conversion then spread and be wide open….  It is a destruction of everything ancient and precious of a heritage held sacred. It is the imposition of a superior god making those following other gods as inferior. Is this not worse than a social structure of which Michael SVD pointed as limiting Gandhi’s perception?
The activities of the Christian missionaries are a fraud on the nation because it is not their business to convert Hindus to Christianity. What does that imply-that they have a better and a superior god and that what they follow is better than what the others are following. Conversion is a business and a money spinning one. Apart from that it forgets that religion has its own cultural practices and its own ethos. The Hindus have no two loyalties-unlike the Catholics-one to Rome and another to the political party which is in power. So it is a divided loyalty – goes against nationalism. This is exactly why China closed its doors to Christianity and threw out the missionaries. It has its own national catholic church.

It was not just shocking but a blatant falsehood and an insult when Michael SVD states the “Hindutuva forces which eliminated Gandhi, the Father of the nation, perpetrators of rape, looting and murder now tries to take shelter under Gandhi’s shadow without even having a remorse of their guilt.” Note how Gandhi has been suddenly elevated by him to suit his condemnation of the Hindutva forces. I would like to elaborate on this because Michael is completely in the dark about the church to which he belongs, about the Jesus whom he would claim as his leader, about guilt and remorse of which he accuses others not to have.

Remorse and guilt for what? For assassinating of Gandhi? Political history shows how assassinations on the basis of ideology have been common. History does elevate the assassin after much research and when truth comes out and is upheld by historians. Godse’s last address to the Court was that he had no regret because Gandhi abetted and authored the creation of a theocratic country. This was done by cutting off this motherland of ours .What was the reason because the Muslims said that they will not be able to live with the Hindus-to put it in simple words. Now look at the consequence of that action of Gandhi. Of course Godse‘s soul was secular to its core and he could not reconcile to the fact that part of this country could become a theocratic State. Today the so called secularists who proclaim to be secular are the most communal. But why does Michael fault the present day Hindutuva forces? Is he playing vote bank politics? Sins of your father is on you and hence this is a permanent blot-like the original sin (which most Catholics do not believe) Are all the Sikhs guilty of the assassination of Indira Gandhi? If so then on Michael’s own il/logic then all the Catholics are guilty of the massacre and the destruction of the Hindus in this country. They have to wash their guilt they have to be remorseful. At least let the official Catholic church in India follow Pope John Paul 11 who asked for forgiveness for the past errors of the Roman Catholic Church during a solemn mass in St Peter’s Basilica on March 14th 2000 “we ask for forgiveness for divisions between Christians, for use of violence in the name of truth, and for the diffidence and hostility engaged against followers of their religions” Now either Michael SVD should fault the Pope or adhere to his forgiveness seeking. If he faults the Pope he can get back with his reasons. If he adheres to the Pope then he has to stop faulting others, disengage in hostility against the followers of other religions. Forgiveness means a resolution not to commit the same.-only then can there be absolution. Michael SVD should know that better than me.

Finally desist from picking at one rape here and another rape when it is a nun and play cheap politics by accusing the Hindutva forces. Hundreds are being raped and murdered across the country not by the Hindutva forces But it seems that the Christians wait to catch the Hindus in some violation. With murder and rape right in the capital of this country and in the highways and byways of this country are an everyday affair it is disturbing to find an ominous silence. Does violation become a violation and its gravity depending on the perpetrator and the victim? He who has not sinned let him cast the first stone-does it ring a bell in Michael’s memory?  Women and children are rape within the home, in the workplace, in moving vehicles, in police stations- the Catholic Church is silent as though it does not matter. But if a nun is rape then the whole country is violently shaken like an earthquake. This outrage can be understood if nuns are at least not sexually molested and violated within their convents by priests. It seems that in the rape of a nun there is politics and that is another form of exploitation…Do not continue to crucify the Truth. ‘Amen’(read it too)
Dr Mrs Hilda Raja,

July 9, 2009 at 7:13 am 8 comments


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