Charu Gupta’s politics of Smothering
Historian Charu Gupta in her recent op-ed in the 20 December edition of the Indian Express dropped her pearls of wisdom on the issue of re-conversion, or homecoming, a topic which is suddenly the main headlines of almost every newspaper in the country. Her gripe with reconversion is not secret since it is a perfect occasion for every secularist in town to offer their ‘expert’ opinion.Let us take a look at the relevant extract of her ‘expert opinion’:
The twin strategies of anti-conversion and ghar wapsi have a long history. As part of their community- and nation-making rhetoric, the Arya Samaj and the Hindu Mahasabha launched the programme of shuddhi on a large scale in Uttar Pradesh in 1923. Various scholars have pointed to the communal character of the movement. ….
First, one needs to examine the truth of this assertion our secularists keep on spreading that the re-conversion campaign of the reformist sect Arya Samaj only had communal objectives in mind. If one cares to read accounts from the 1860-1930 timeline penned by the likes of R.C. Dutt, B.R. Ambedkar among many others, it would become obvious that the Arya Samaj was particularly a reaction to the excessive criticism and slander the indigenous Hindu traditions were faced with from the colonial officials as well their allies among the Christian missionaries.
Since the missionaries in order to save the unfortunate and sinful souls of the Indian heathens were prepared to offer material benefits to converts, the Arya Samajis realized that mere talk of spirituality wouldn’t be effective to counter the Christian propaganda and the resultant conversion.
And so, the Arya Samajis decided to cleanse whatever they perceived as pollutants in the Vedic religion. They decided that “caste”—varna/jati—was among the chief pollutants the Arya Samajis aimed to sanitize, as many missionaries would use caste differences as a useful tool to further their conversion agenda.
Devout Arya Samajis like Swami Shraddhanand repeatedly defended the rights of the lower-castes and went on to establish ‘Dalit Uddhar Sabha’ which worked ceaselessly for the wellbeing of the much ignored untouchables. Being perturbed by the exploitation of Hindu widows, the Arya Samaj launched a fairly successful movement aimed at the remarriage of widows.
For all these reform activities, the Arya Samajis relied on the Vedic scriptures whose faulty interpretations as well as the caste hardening that had occurred during the Muslim invasions had led to stagnation in the Hindu society. And it is with this reformist attitude that Arya Samaj went on to win back those Hindus who converted to other faiths.
And now, as a historian, Charu Gupta is surely not unaware of the Islamic Tabligh movement which was also pretty active during the same timeline. A cursory glance at the nature of the Tabligh movement reveals to the reader its inherently anti-Hindu nature, a feature it shares with missionary literature. And so it would be naïve to expect the Arya Samaj to be docile in their activities. But then again, it is usual of our secularists to censure the Hindus if they react to patent injustice done to them. Charu Gupta herself provides the sample for said censure:
It produces and enforces notions of a primordial religious identity, whereby all are declared Hindus. The shift from the whole world to the Hindu nation is swift, as ghar wapsi denationalises Islam and Christianity, facilitating their othering. Anti-conversion combined with ghar wapsi signals for the Hindu Right a shift from anti-national to national, exile to home, forced to voluntary, people to citizens, constructed to original, unnatural to natural, outsider to insider…..
Ms.Gupta must be aware that advocates of both Christianity and Islam at many junctions in modern history have expressed views which are anti-national since transnationalism is inherent in both these faiths. Is she unaware how votaries of radical Islam convince young Muslims across the world today—from Belgium to Kenya to India to carry out the most depraved acts of terror to further the cause of Islam? Among others, this is a very plausible explanation for the hordes of European and Indian Muslims volunteering (sic) to join the ranks of the deadly ISIS?
Can Charu Gupta point out just one instance where the Hindu Nationalist movement explicitly threatened to denationalize the minorities? But like others in her camp, all that Ms. Gupta does in her piece is to emphasize the statements of some Hindu activists and blow it up as the tagline for the entire Hindutva movement. Since she’s so keen, this oft-quoted statement of M.S. Golwalkar should clear her doubt where the Hindu nationalists exactly stand:
The Muslims must realise that we are all one people and it is the same blood that courses in all our veins. They should experience the same ‘sense of belonging’, as the Hindus do, to this country, its people, its culture, tradition and history and also its past memories and future aspirations. If, after fulfilling all these, anybody says that he has studied the Koran or the Bible and that way of worship strikes a sympathetic chord in his heart, he is welcome to follow it…We want all people to come to the mainstream of national life but not to lose their identity.
Undeterred, Ms. Gupta continues:
However, the claim of “home” was powerfully challenged by various anti-caste ideologues, like Phule, Periyar and Ambedkar, and in UP by Achutanand, Chandrika Prasad Jigyasu and Swami Bodhananda. They rejected Vedic Hinduism and constructed a pre-Aryan identity of Dalits as the original inhabitants — Adi Hindus — of India. They claimed that they had prior rights over its land and territory, and that there was a glorious history of Adi Hindu monarchy without caste, which was destroyed by Brahmanical Hinduism. They further stated that Dalits had been conquered by upper-caste Hindus through chicanery. This put a serious question mark over the supposed primordial Hindu religious identity of India’s inhabitants. Related to this is another paradox in the anti-conversion/ reconversion rhetoric. Arguments of lure, force, fraudulence and material gains have been constantly made in anti-conversion laws and by the Hindu Right when opposing conversions. Reconversion, however, is claimed as a voluntary return. In the same breath, conversion is upheld as illegitimate in one case and legitimate in another, forcible in one case, voluntary in another. But how can a religion, into which one is born without any choice in the matter, be regarded as voluntary? And how do we define force or material gains? If one is converting in the hope of a better life, education and dignity, material progress, what is wrong with that?
Is Charu Gupta merely repeating the belief of Bodhananda-Phule or does she herself believe in it? If that is the case, she should take a look at what Dr. Ambedkar had to say on the same issue:
Enough has been said to show how leaky is the Aryan theory expounded by western scholars….. Yet, the theory has such a hold on the people that what has been said against it may mean no more than scotching it. Like the snake, it must be killed…..In the face of the discovery of new facts, the theory can no longer stand and must be thrown on the scrap heap.
As far as reconversion being voluntary or no, it is often forgotten by our secularists that Hinduism or Sanatana Dharma is, broadly speaking, about spirituality and personal freedom and choice, and birth does not determine whether one can become a Hindu or no.
As explained in this detailed piece, the argument ‘one is only born a Hindu’ is not only discriminatory in deciding who is or not a Hindu, but also imposes strict birth-based mandates on a person’s choice of principles that we call dharma.’
But Charu Gupta is still undeterred:
First, various statistical studies have debunked theories of declining Hindu numbers. Second, many tribal and Dalit groups have objected to their accounting as Hindus. Third, even if in some remote future, Hindu numbers do decline, how is religious identity going to alter our basic constitutional and democratic fabric?
Charu Gupta, a historian and faculty member and someone who teaches at the university level has not provided a single shred of evidence to back her claim of the non-declined Hindu members. And so we shall provide the relevant evidence so the reader can be reach a logical conclusion:
Census 2011 is likely to throw up a psychologically important figure on India’s religious demographics. For the first time in over a century, the proportion of the Hindu population in the country will probably fall below the 80 percent mark – in keeping with the long-term trend of a significant divergence between Hindu and Muslim growth rates………
Demographers like Ashish Bose and SC Gulati have varying viewpoints on the subject. While Bose believes that “it is quite likely that the proportion will be below 80 percent in 2011”, Gulati says that “A secular trend cannot be predicted for religions based on past data”. The latter view is also backed by another Economic & Political Weekly (EPW) research paper “Hindu-Muslim Fertility Differentials”, which says: “It is true that a Hindu-Muslim differential in fertility persists in India’s demographic reality, but it is no more than one child.….
Surprisingly Ms.Gupta does not realize that her second point quashes her first point: if we accept for argument’s sake that Dalits and adivasis are unwilling to register themselves as Hindus, that in itself automatically reduces the population of Hindus. For more information on the second point, readers may like to visit this link.
As for the third point Ms. Gupta might want to read these reports about South Korea which describe the damaging effects wrought by conversion on their Buddhist community. Notable excerpts from the linked reports are reproduced below:
Beginning in 1980 many of the newly converted Christians began to burn and vandalize Buddhist temples and art. More than 20 temple buildings were destroyed by arson; crosses were smeared on temple wall paintings; Buddha statues were smashed or decapitated.
1984 February- Red crucifixes are painted on priceless temple wall paintings at Muryangsa Temple and Ilsônsa on Samgaksan Mountain outside Seoul. Dirt is smeared on the paintings and on a statue of the Buddha located outside one of the temples. A large ancient carving of the Buddha chiselled into stone is damaged with axe-like instruments.
In 1995 young fundamentalist Christians began a campaign of aggressive proselytizing on the campus of Dongguk University in Seoul, a Buddhist school, handing out anti-Buddhist literature in front of the school’s main Buddha statue.
Closer home we know how the demographic shift in Assam resulted in the Muslim-Bodo clashes of 2012 and even early 2013. This does not suggest that every Muslim is undemocratic or unpatriotic but as seen in Assam, as well as a place like London, votaries of radical Islam seem to gain more power with an increase in their population.
Towards the end of her op-ed Ms.Gupta asserts:
……….conversions here (as elsewhere) do not signify a passive acceptance of a monolithic, outside essence. Rather, conversion to Islam and Christianity in India has entailed a creative and selective adaptation, and constant translation, whereby these religions have themselves been indigenised and “vernacularised”. Christian and Islamic doctrines have interacted with Dalit and tribal cosmologies, and been moulded by them. Conversions have often signified mobility, flexibility and plurality……
I’m surprised Ms.Gupta being a historian is so willing to ignore the past just to validate her ideology—or maybe I’m not so surprised given Arun Shourie’s “Eminent Historians” to which she clearly belongs. In many cases, Ms. Gupta, it was not a passive acceptance of a monolithic, outside essence as force played a more than significant role. Regarding Christianity, the role of inquisitions cannot be ignored however hard one may try to whitewash it:
In the name of Holy Inquisition, Francis Xavier perpetrated mass murder and extreme torture of Hindus in Goa. If he suspected that someone had committed even a minor lapse in following the tenets of Christianity, he would torture them brutally. About 2000 Christians were killed under his watch and thousands of Hindus left their homes and fled to various places along the South Canara coast to save their lives.
As far as Islam is considered, this extract from Babasaheb Ambedkar’s “Thoughts on Pakistan” should suffice:
These Muslim invasions were not undertaken merely out of lust for loot or conquest….there is no doubt that striking a blow at the idolatry and polytheism of Hindus and establishing Islam in India was also one of the aims of this expedition… Not infrequently, the slaughter of the Hindus gave a great setback to the indigenous culture of the Hindus, as in the conquest of Bihar by Muhammad Bakhtyar Khilji. When he took Nuddea (Bihar) the Tabaquat-i-Nasiri informs us that: ” great plunder fell into the hands of the victors. Most of the inhabitants were Brahmins with shaven heads. They were put to death……….
And lastly even if for the sake of argument if one accepts Ms.Gupta’s assumption that Christian and Islamic doctrines have interacted with Dalit and tribal cosmologies, she should actually welcome reconversions as Hinduism throughout its existence assimilated and complemented a multitude of traditions whether it was the Greeks, Scythians or even the Islamic invaders.
For a typical Hindu, Jesus can be easily accepted as one of the forms of Godhead but can the same be said about the other two? But then again, secular historians like Charu Gupta regard making objective and truthful enquiries as anathema to ideology.