No such thing as converting out of Hinduism
(This essay was contributed by the Dharma Satya Sabha, a team of Hindu researchers and scholars comprising Saswati Sarkar, Hitarth Maru, Neha Srivastava, Kausik Gangopadhyay, Maidros Feanorite, Vikas Kumar, and Vamsee Kiran Vedula)
The Dharma Satya Sabha team came across an article authored by Shri Ankur Betageri explaining why he has renounced Hinduism.On the surface of it, it is clear that Shri Betageri suffers from Hinduphobia, and like many such Hindu-phobic chains of thought, the article makes the same confounding mistakes regarding Hinduism because it is based on distortions and factual inaccuracies.
Hinduism does not divide the world into the believer and the infidel. That is the Abrahamic view. Whether you believe, or do not believe, the karmic fruit of your actions accrue to you and one can no more to escape them than one can escape gravity after jumping off a cliff. This is the Hindu thought.
Belief is not a means for being saved, nor is unbelief a cause for being damned. There is no concept of apostasy in Hinduism. Naturally, Hindus do not either bestow death or any other penalty on deserters (apostates) unlike Abrahamic faiths with Islam leading the roost in this. Thus, Shri Betageri’s choice would have been of no concern to Hindus, but for the flaws in his understanding of Hinduism, its practices and history, and the logical discrepancies abounding in his comparison of Hinduism with other religions. We discuss his arguments in the sequence in which they appeared.
The author starts with:
Hinduism is a harmful religion. Like all religions it functions on an economy of hatred. But instead of directing the hatred solely at the outsider like in Islam, or inward, at oneself and all of humanity, like in Christianity, hatred in Hinduism is graded according to a hierarchy defined by birth. Hatred is directed at all caste-members except the Brahmins.
Logically speaking, it is not clear to us as to why directing hatred towards “outsiders” and “all of humanity” is in any way better than directing hatred towards “a hierarchy defined by birth.” Particularly when the above have led to:
1) Institutionalized discrimination between believers and infidels involving physical violence and financial discrimination in the form of Jizyah advocated in holy books of monotheistic religions.
2) Iconoclasm as practiced by the Prophet of Islam in Arabia and holocaust on Hindu temples executed by Islamic invaders for 1000 years in India.
3) Inquisition of Hindus in Goa [3, 4] and Pagans throughout South America by Christians.
All of the above have been documented in monotheistic scriptures, in the most authentic biographies of the Prophet of Islam,(, , pp. 345-375, )in inscriptions, in epigraphs, in the history narrated by Islamic and Christian historians, including court historians and the invaders themselves and mostly with a sense of pride. (pp. 70-244 , , )
In contrast, it is against the ethos of any Hindu to force her civilizational practices on others. Not for nothing did Hindus welcome members of all faiths, oppressed or otherwise, to their civilizational land. Zoroastrians came to Bharat after the fall of Persia to the Islamic sword. Muslim history during the reign of Iltutmish (AD 1210-1236) written by Mohammad Ufi narrates that Siddhraj Jaisinh of Gujarat bestowed endowments for construction and repair of Mosques. (, pp. 32-34) Numerous inscriptions obtained from Junagadh, Khambat and Prabhas Patan indicate that the above was a norm rather than an exception under Hindu rule in India. ( cited in pp. 35-40 of ) It is worthwhile to note that such patronage was extended even after the sacking of Somnath – one of the most sacred Hindu temples – and wanton murder of many thousands of devotees by Mahmud of Ghazni (997-1030 AD).
We now address the author’s main concern: “Hatred in Hinduism is graded according to a hierarchy defined by birth. Hatred is directed at all caste-members except the Brahmins.”
The central tenet of Hinduism is adherence to Dharma and upholding Dharma rather than caste hierarchy as alleged by the author. Hindus have therefore called their religion Santana Dharma. The original tenets of Hinduism do not allow for the discrimination alleged by the author and defines “Varnas”—or “castes” in the language the author understands better –based on occupations (and in a broad way, their ‘worth’ to the society).
The Vedas ordain for equal rights to all human beings from all the varnas (which are people from various occupations). We quote the Yajurveda (26:2):
“yathemāṃ vācaṃ kalyāṇīmāvadāni janebhyaḥ, Brahma rajaṇyābhyāṃ śūdrāya cāryāya svīya cāraṇāya; Priyā devānāṃ dakṣiṇāyaidāturiha bhūyāsamayaṃ, mokāmaḥ samṛdhya tāmupamādo namatu”.
I have uttered all these words of the Vedas—words that are augmenting welfare—for all human beings; for the Brahmins and the Kshatriyas, for the Shudras and the Vaishyas, for women and for servants. Even, the dumbest may receive enlightenment. I will endear those who share this knowledge with others. Both, the giver and the receiver of this knowledge, will benefit from this.
The Chandogya Upanishad tells us the story of Satyakama – son of a prostitute. Rishi Gautama considers Satyakama a Brahmin as he had the courage to speak the truth about his parentage. Trained by Rishi Gautama, Satyakama himself becomes a Rishi of repute.
Moving forward from the Vedas and the Upanishads, we enter the age of the Ramayana and Mahabharata. We are introduced to Avataras, Rama and Krishna, who are worshipped by all Hindus including Brahmanas, till date. They were both Kshatriyas, a caste the author would rate lower than Brahmanas. Krishna was raised by a community of milkmen. Hinduism elevates a Kshatriya Rama, who killed a Brahmin Ravana. Similarly Hiranyaksha & Hiranyakashyapa were condemned despite them being Brahmins. Their varna did not help them in anyway.
[pullquote]It is against the ethos of any Hindu to force her civilizational practices on others. [/pullquote]
Krishna did mention in the Bhagwad Gita that “catur varnyam maya srstam”. But he didn’t stop there. He continued it with “guna karma vibhagasah,”clearly stating that Guna & Karma determine the Varna of a person rather than birth. We also see that a Brahmin Sanyasi receives wisdom from an enlightened housewife and a righteous butcher. 
Neither Ramayana, written by Rishi Valmiki (originally a highway robber named Ratnakara – whose caste would fall under OBC today – before he did penance and attained spiritual knowledge), nor Mahabharata written by Vyasa (illegitimate son of a boat-woman) lost its sanctity because of the caste of its writers.
Vishvamitra was a celebrated sage who was a Kshatriya by birth. Intermarriage among different castes were common during this period. The Kshatriya king Shantanu married Satyavati, the daughter of a fisherman. She held a pride of place in the royal Kuru hierarchy and was frequently consulted by her stepson Bhishma who acted as the regent of her minor biological sons. It turns out that the next kings Dhritarashtra and Pandu were descendants of Vyasa, and no one thought any less of them owing to their non-Brahmin or non-Kshatriya lineage.
It is however true that later degeneration of Hinduism defined castes by birth, which likely started from the age of Mahabharata. We find Karna (from a driver-caste by convention) ridiculed as Sutaputra by his enemies.
Still, Xuanzang (Hiuen Tsang)’s travelogue of India in 7th century AD mentions the presence of Shudra kings in India . In the words of the author,
“Anuloma (hypergamy) marriages were not thus uncommon in the times we are describing. Such marriages took place usually in castes only one degree apart and rarely though that may be, they took place even in castes two or more grades apart. For Bana records that he had two Parasava brothers i. e., sons of a Brahmin by a Shudra wife. Here the word Parasava is used which shows that the progeny was not treated as illegitimate.”
Nonetheless, later in the Middle Ages, almost all Bhakti movement proponents were non-Brahmin by birth. “ऋषिमूलःनपरीक्षितव्यः” (“the Rishi’s origins should not be examined/questioned”) is a standard Sanskrit proverb. And, these movements gathered mass followings regardless of the origins of the proponents.
More importantly, unlike Abrahamic religions, Hinduism lends itself to reforms, and social malaise as a birth based caste system has been rectified through the enactment of laws and social evolution.
For example, Dalit Hindu reformer Ayyankali(1863-1941) could spearhead social movements against untouchability while remaining a Hindu. Subsequently, right after independence from Colonial rule in 1947, Hindu majority India pronounced untouchability as illegal and mandated reservation for lower castes in educational institutions and government jobs.
The tradition of inter-caste marriage has continued from Satyavati-Shantanu to the Mundes and the Fadnavises. Munde who hails from OBC has married a Brahmin, and the Brahmin Gangadharrao Fadnavis (the current Maharashtra CM’s father) has married an OBC. Recently, Hindus of all castes, in particular the upper castes, voted in large numbers for an OBC PM candidate, Shri Narendra Modi. The current CM of Madhya Pradesh Shri Shivraj Singh Chouhan is also an OBC.
In contrast, the leadership of left parties, which is likely where the author ideologically connects, comprises largely of upper caste Hindus till date. A “Hindu nationalist organization” RSS has found firm footing among backward caste Hindus in Bengal.
Talking about contemporary practices, Christians and Muslims in India practice caste discrimination and untouchability based on birth.  In particular, Muslims in South Asia have stratified themselves as Ashrafs and Ajlafs, where the former claims superior status based on foreign ancestry. Thus, hatred based on birth is not a feature specific to Hinduism. In fact, discriminations based on birth appeared in Islam right after the death of its prophet – during the reign of Umayids (661-750 AD), non-Arab converts to Islam were referred to as Mawali. The term came to denote an unequal social relationship during that period (pp. 24-25 (, ). They were excluded from the government, military, required Arab patrons and continued to pay discriminatory tax similar to Jaziah. In addition to this, both Quran and Bible mention and approve of slavery , the vilest and the most evil form of discrimination ever.
[pullquote]It is consequently, accurate to say that there were several schools of philosophy in ancient India, of which Buddhism & Jainism (along with Yoga, Sankhya, Nyaya-Vaisheshika, Ajivika and many others) were offering differing paths to personal salvation. [/pullquote]
Lastly, the statement that except Brahmins all others were ‘hated’ (presumably oppressed) leaves open several obvious questions. Who is the enforcing authority?
First, Brahmins were often poor and survived on alms and without any weapons. So, did Kshatriyas, who were the rulers and hence controlled the military, and therefore in a position to act as oppressors, enforce oppression by Brahmins of all other castes including themselves? Did all the other castes allow themselves to be oppressed too? Why did oppressive Brahmins not impose a Brahmin, “Vamana” on other castes? Why did they acquiesce nay, venerate before “lower caste” Gods?
Nor is it true that the Brahmins were the sole priests. The existence of several non-Brahmin priestly traditions, from the existence of the temples set up by Narayana Guru, to the Karaga traditions of Bangalore, there are thousands of temples where priests are non-Brahmins. Non-Brahmin temple priests are the norm, not the exception in South India, at least.
And now, on Shri Betageri’s assertion that Buddhism emerged as a movement to ‘counter casteist Hinduism’ is factually incorrect. The fallacy of this thesis has been exposed by the renowned scholar Dr. Koenraad Elst. In reality, Buddhism was an elite movement, recruiting among the upper castes and patronized by kings and magnates. Above and beyond all, the Betageri falls into the trap of the Marxists, pitting Jainism & Buddhism against ‘Hinduism’. This is purely an Abrahamic view.
In Indic thought, personal goals are divided into धर्मअर्थकाम and मोक्ष. Buddhism and Jainism did not offer any significant changes in the first three, and only offered a newer version in the last. The idea of dividing India into a ‘Hindu’ vs ‘Buddhist’ vs ‘Jain’ is a false and artificial construct forced from above by the modern Marxists with a deliberate intent to create divides in the society.
It is consequently, accurate to say that there were several schools of philosophy in ancient India, of which Buddhism & Jainism (along with Yoga, Sankhya, Nyaya-Vaisheshika, Ajivika and many others) were offering differing paths to personal salvation. The only difference was in the kinds of proofs (प्रमाण) they accepted in support of their theories of personal salvation . And in any case, it is unclear as to what the author means by ‘Buddhist king Ashoka’. Ashoka was crowned by the same Indrabheshika (इन्द्राभिषेक) rituals that his father (Bindusara) and grandfather (Chandragupta Maurya) were crowned by .
All the above schools of philosophy peacefully coexisted in India for centuries. Many kings supported practices of all the schools. For instance, Buddhist Chinese traveler Fa Hien reports that Chandragupta II patronized both Buddhist and traditional Hindu schools of thought (375-413 AD). A later Chinese Buddhist traveler Xuan Zang (629-645 AD) recalls that:
1) King Harsha publicly engaged in sun worship, sacrificed to Shiva and supported Buddhist endeavors (p. 161, )
2) There were one hundred Buddhist monasteries in the Hindu Calukya kingdom (p. 146, )
3) The Hindu king of Assam invited Xuan Zhang knowing that he was Buddhist (p. 140, )
4) 100 Hindu temples were located in Varanasi in the neighborhood of Buddhist city Sarnath
5) 2000 monks of both Buddhist branches coexisted with Hindus in Mathura (p. 80, )
There is no evidence of systematic and large scale destruction of Buddhist religious structures or massacre of Buddhists by traditional Hindu sects. Marxist historian Romila Thapar could not cite more than 3-4 instances where kings of traditional Hindu sects have persecuted Buddhists and Jains (pp. 16-17, ). However, these instances are highly disputed and have meticulously been countered by the late Sitaram Goel(pp. 415-422, ).
In contrast, Sitaram Goel has cited 80 works of Islamic history composed in a period spanning 1100 years to document the destruction of Hindu temples in 154 localities in a region extending from Khorasan in the West to Tripura in the East, Transoxiana (present day Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, southern Kyrgyzstan and south-west Kazakhstan) in the North to Tamil Nadu in the South by 61 Muslim kings, 63 military commanders and 14 Sufis (pp. 95-254 ). This is backed up by inscriptions obtained in epigraphs at 21 locations throughout India (, , ,  pp. 71-94 ).
Sitaram Goel has created a list of more than 1000 mosques built on the site of Hindu temples or constructed from material thereof(pp. 62-191, ). Till date the holiest places of Hinduism and Buddhism are adjacent to each other in Gaya, inconceivable for any of the two monotheistic religions or even to different sects of the same monotheistic religion. The principal Bodh Gaya temple has a statue of Buddha and a relic of Vishnu. This temple has now been targeted by Indian Mujahideen (Islamic terror group).
To the best of our knowledge, there is no evidence of any violence by Adi Shankaracharya – Betageri does not oblige us either. For his information, Adi Shankaracharya rejuvenated Hinduism through the Indic tradition of intellectual debates with scholars of different schools of philosophy including but not limited to Buddhism. In fact, most of Shankara’s debates and the bulk of his Brahmasutrabhashya barely even *mention* Buddhism. Shankara himself is called ‘Prachchhanna Bauddha’ by his opponents – who were mainly the Mimamsakas (मीमांसक) of Kumarila Bhatta.
[pullquote]Till date the holiest places of Hinduism and Buddhism are adjacent to each other in Gaya, inconceivable for any of the two monotheistic religions or even to different sects of the same monotheistic religion. [/pullquote]
By Shankara’s time, Buddhists had already gone into a decline since their involvement in trade and their opulent monasteries  had long distanced them from the masses. Not only is there a complete lack of evidence that Shankara used violence against anyone, there is instead a story of a Kapalika asking Shankara for his head for rituals, and Shankara agreeing to let him take it.  The ’Brahmin supremacist’ Shankara himself says that when it comes to Brahmagnanam (ब्रह्मज्ञान), ‘चण्डालःअपिममगुरुः’ implicitly rejecting any connection between birth and salvation.
Again, for Mr Betageri’s information, it was not Adi Shankaracharaya, but Islam that led to the near extinction of Buddhist school of philosophy from the land of its birth. There is a long and documented history of Buddhism being wiped out by Islamic invasions in Central Asia, Khorasan (present day Afghanistan) and the Indian subcontinent (present day India, Pakistan and Bangladesh).
In the words of Dr. B R Ambedkar, “Islam destroyed Buddhism not only in india, but wherever it went”(p. 229 ). It is well known that Nalanda was sacked and the Sarnatha complex was “wrecked beyond recovery” by Bakhtiyar Khilji in 1200 AD (D D Kosambi, p. 18 ). The decimation in 2001 of the 6th century AD gigantic Bamiyan Buddha statues in Afghanistan by the Talibanis merely a continuation of the onslaught on Buddhism initiated by the Muslim invaders of the yore.
Also, there is substantial evidence of persecution of other religions by Buddhists, for example, the persecution of Japanese Christians by Nichrien Buddhists  in Japan, not that the Japanese Christians were remotely pleasant . The Tendai monks of Mt. Hiei were infamous for their martial skills and mercenary character . Ashokavadana also points to Ashoka brutally murdering Ajivika monks (Ajivika path of salvation was followed by Bindusara).
It is pertinent to point out the incontrovertible fact that not only have the traditional Hindus not persecuted any other faith even when in majority and invested with political power, they have been at the receiving end of ethnic cleansing for more than 1200 years throughout the Indian subcontinent and beyond.
[pullquote]No religion can ever be secular. [/pullquote]
The genocide of Hindus started with the Arab conquest of Sind in the early 8th century AD. In the words of historian Will Durant, “the Mohammadan conquest of India is probably the bloodiest story in history.”(p.459,Vol.1,). Koenraad Elst affirms:
“The Muslim conquests, down to the 16th century, were for the Hindus a pure struggle of life and death. Entire cities were burnt down and the populations massacred, with hundreds of thousands killed in every campaign, and similar numbers deported as slaves. Every new invader made (often literally) his hills of Hindus skulls. Thus, the conquest of Afghanistan in the year 1000 was followed by the annihilation of the Hindu population; the region is still called the Hindu Kush, i.e. Hindu slaughter. The Bahmani sultans (1347-1480) in central India made it a rule to kill 100,000 Hindus every year. In 1399, Teimur killed 100,000 captives in a single day, and many more on other occasions. The conquest of the Vijayanagar Empire in 1564 left the capital plus large areas of Karnataka depopulated.”(p.33, )
The genocide of Hindus is yet to abate in the Indian subcontinent. From 14-15% of the overall population of during Dogra rule (1846-1947) in Kashmir valley, the Kashmiri Pandits were reduced to only 5% of the overall population in 1981,(p. 255, ) and further down to a meager 808 families comprising 3445 members in 2010 per a government report.
Starting late 1980s, nearly 100,000 traditional Hindus, constituting about 1/6th of Bhutanese population have been expelled from Buddhist Bhutan . Hindus constituted almost a third of East Pakistan’s (currently Bangladesh’s) population as per Pakistan’s 1951 census.By 1971, when Bangladesh was born out of East Pakistan, Hindus were less than a fifth of its population; thirty years later, Hindus constitute less than 10% of the populace there; they may be as few as 8% today per reliable estimate. (p. 30, )The Hindu Population in Muslim majorityPakistan declined from 25 % to 1.6 % in 2013. We hope to have convinced Shri Betageri that far from fostering hate, Hindus have been the victims of faith based violence for a very long time.
We have never heard of ‘Bhagavatism’ and certainly don’t know where it comes into being from the blue in the 11th century. The Bhakti movements that emerged in the middle ages provided solace and hope for the Hindus who were sinking into despair under the yoke of the Islamic rule.
Mr. Betageri stated his opinion of Gandhi and Savarkar which we cannot contest in absence of specific evidences provided by him. His contention would have been more substantive had he communicated why he believes that the Hindutva, put forward by V.D. Savarkar is “anti-Islamic, Brahmin-supremacist, nationalist and racist” (This seems to be a Freudian slip from the author as secular for Modern Indian elite is equivalent to being pro-Islam which obviously contrasts Gandhi to Savarkar). Contrary to the author’s opinion, Vinayak Damodar “Veer” Savarkar was neither a Brahmin-supremacist, nor a racist, nor a fascist. In the words of Dr Koenraad Elst,
“Exactly like Nehru, Savarkar could live with the idea that his nation had a fragmented past but that out of divergent ethnic material a coherent nation could be made. Whereas Nehru placed the fusion of the different components into a single nation largely in the immediate future, with the Congressite programme of “nation-building”, Savarkar placed it largely in the past. To him, the welding of the various components into a Hindu nation was an old accomplished fact. This fusion had reached down even to the biological level:”Not even the tribes of the Andamans are without a sprinkling of the so-called Aryan blood.” (Notice his shyness in embracing the then-prevalent notion of “Aryan blood”, which exposes the prevarication in the secularist claims about Savarkar being a racist ideologue, a claim very explicitly refuted in the booklet Hindutva itself, where Savarkar accepts racial intermarriage as normal and inevitable.) But more importantly, the linguistic aryanization of all Indian languages, with Malayalam or Telugu having up to 70% Sanskrit loans in their vocabularies, and especially the various levels of Hindu religion adopted by even remote and isolated communities, had fused the disparate continuum of ethnic groups into a self-conscious single nation. At least, that was Savarkar’s view.”
It is perhaps appropriate to surmise that the word “nationalist” has a negative connotation for Betageri. As a corollary, he would not object if we consider him the opposite – an anti-national. In this context, he refers to a “secular version of Hinduism”. He ought to realize that his phrase is linguistically incorrect.
Secularism has been introduced in Europe as the principle of separation between the church and the state, that is, the separation of religion and governance. By this definition, no religion can ever be secular. Incidentally, Hinduism has no centralized religious authority (similar to a church in Christianity); so separation of the “church” from the state is a given in a Hindu majority country.
Next, Betageri denotes the schools of philosophies he finds intellectually appealing, as “Indian schools” and the rest as “Hinduism”. He neither names these “Indian schools” nor provides the time period in which they have been proposed. Assuming all these schools are Hindu schools, the author’s atheism has more in common with Hinduism than any monotheistic religion (first part by his own admission) as no monotheistic religion has had an atheist school for example.
Lastly, Mr. Betageri says that ‘Five out of the six major schools of orthodox Indian philosophy, which ‘Hinduism’ calls its own, are atheistic. The sole theistic school is the Vedantist. ’This is factually incorrect. Yoga, Nyaya and Vaisheshika are not nirishwara vadas of Jain, Buddhist and Charvaka schools. More fundamentally, theism and atheism as expressed by the Abrahamic principles are completely irrelevant to Indic thought.
We would also not dwell on the last bit about ‘not Hinduism, but Darwinism’, as Ankur Betageri is probably unaware that Hinduism is one of the few religions that accommodates schools of thought which are not centered around a creation theory as advocated in the holy books of monotheist religions.
When Darwin proposed his theory, he was ridiculed by adherents of the Church. It is only lately that the Pope has accepted Darwinism. Interestingly, this declaration of accepting Big Bang theory and Evolution virtually demolishes the very basis of Catholicism—the original sin. For if the world was born with a Big Bang and humans evolved, there were no Adam and Eve, there was no original sin and then it is not entirely clear what Jesus died for. Of course the Vatican would hope that none of the Christian brothers ever ask this question, but it would be interesting to see them explain this one.
In sharp contrast, Darwin’s theory sits quite well withthe Nyaya and Vaisheshika (न्याय वैशेषिक) schoolof thought, which works on the principles of proofs through inference. The origin of universe and life has always been an open ended question for Hindus and so Darwin’s theory of evolution is not in any way contradictory to any of Hinduism’s teachings and in fact complements more than one school of thought. Thus, in an effort to “leave Hinduism”, the author has just entered the Nyaya-Vaisheshika school of thought.
Welcome back, Brother Ankur Betageri!
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