By Nithin Sridhar
The Kerala High court has ruled that people belonging to Schedule Caste/Schedule Tribe who have been converted to Christianity can claim their SC/ST benefits if they return back to Hinduism according to a report published in The Times of India.
The court was hearing a petition filed by 46-year-old MA Chandraboss of Ramapuram and his 18-year-old daughter Alida. They were born as Christians, but their ancestors belonged to Hindu Cheramar community. It was their father who had converted from Hinduism into Christianity. But in 2009, the whole family returned to Hinduism by undergoing “Shuddhi” (purification) ceremony conducted by Arya Samaj.
This year when Alida sought admissions through Common Entrance Examination under SC/ST quota, her claim was rejected. The Kerala High court which heard the case upheld the claim of Alida for reservation under SC/ST quota.
The court observed that: “The 2nd petitioners (Chandraboss’ daughter) definitely was brought up in her father’s house, maybe as a Christian, but a Christian-Cheramar. There being generally no accepted caste discrimination in Christianity, the identity in the Cheramar community was essentially retained.”
The judgment gains significance in the backdrop of conversion and ghar-wapsi (return home) activities that are happening across the country.
The Christian Evangelism: At the root of all conversion activities carried out by various Christian missionaries and evangelists is the belief that it is their duty to spread the word of Gospel across the whole world i.e. to Christianize the whole world.
The introduction to the document “Lausanne Occasional Paper 14: Christian Witness to Hindus” released by Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization in 1980, starts by saying: “We give thanks to God Almighty for his gracious act of salvation in Jesus Christ, which has made possible the entrance into the Kingdom of God for over 565 million Hindu people dispersed throughout the world, with the majority in the Indian sub-continent. We rejoice in the fact that the saving Word of God preached faithfully by God’s servants has brought about a Christian population of about 19 million people in India alone. However, we are conscious that God longs for the whole Hindu people to know Jesus Christ and live under his Lordship (Isa. 17:7, 8). We regret that, after so many years of sincere effort by so many faithful people, the number of Christians in India is still less than 3% of the population.” It is this faith that drives all activities of Christian evangelism be it in India or Africa.
Conversion per se is not wrong when a person willingly and out of conviction in specific doctrines accepts those doctrines. But, it can turn into a social menace that breaks the society, when conversions are carried out by employing force, financial incentives, medicines, miracles, and other unethical means.
The doctrines of Christianity is rooted in monotheism which is unlike Hinduism and various Hindu traditions including that of tribals. Therefore, an unethical conversion of a person will lead to family conflict and if the conversion is of the entire family or many families then it creates fault-lines within the society. It will further isolate such families from their ancestry and cultural identity.
But various evangelists are known to practice these unethical tactics including the practice of “inculturation or indigenization”.
According to Kaj Baag, in Pioneers of Indigenous Christianity: “Indigenization is evangelization. It is the planting of the gospel inside another culture, another philosophy, another religion.” This means in the Indian context, the implanting of Christian theology into Hindu culture and traditions by adopting symbols that are unique to Hindu culture. While discussing on the methodology to be adopted to convert, the Lausanne report says “Communicate the gospel through indigenous methods such as bhajans, drama, dialogue, discourse, Indian music, festival processions, etc.” This and other attempts like using Hindu symbols like Aum, Ochre robe etc. are nothing but Inculturation tactics.
Further, Lausanne document suggests various tactics to be adopted to convert Hindus. It speaks about Rural Evangelism, Urban Evangelism, and Student Evangelism. It says how the missionary people must train Christian students to befriend Hindu students (so that they can be influenced) or how Christian missions must financially help poor students (in order to attract them towards Church).
It is with respect to such unethical activities that the Niyogi Commission Report on Christian Missionary Activities in Madhya Pradesh published in 1956 notes: “that the largest number of converts is from such backward classes living in areas where due to various causes only Mission schools and hospitals exist. Most conversions have been doubtless insincere admittedly brought about in expectation of social service benefits and other material considerations”
It is these attempts at using unethical means to convert innocent people that has become a contentious and problematic issue in India.
The “Ghar Wapsi”: Certain Hindu organizations like VHP and Arya Samaj have been carrying out “Ghar Wapsi” (returning home) program across India including Kerala. There has been a lot of criticism especially in the media regarding these programs but a complete silence regarding evangelism practiced by missionaries. The fact is that a ghar-wapsi or returning to home is only possible when a person went out of the home in the first case. In this case, the re-conversion of Christians into Hinduism has been only possible because, they or their ancestors were once converted from Hinduism into Christianity by ethical or unethical means.
Therefore, this calls for a deeper introspection of the whole issue. In this context, the decision of the high court is very significant. The judgment has shown that returning back to Hinduism will be beneficial to many families who were converted into Christianity by giving incentives and false promises of upliftment. This is not to suggest that there is no caste menace in the society.
Instead, it points towards the fact that many evangelists only utilized the weaknesses be it poverty or caste to convert innocent Hindus into Christianity without delivering any real benefit to them. Those who converted retained their caste identities even after converting to a religion whose theology recognizes no caste system.
High court has also made this observation: “It is to be noticed that Christianity, as it is generally understood, does not have any caste discrimination and the very fact that the 1st and 2nd petitioners (Chandraboss and his daughter) were all along issued with community certificates as belonging to Christian-Cheramar would indicate that they had their origin in the Hindu-Cheramar community.”
In another incident that was reported in December 2014, 30 year old Mr. Selvam revealed that he and his family had converted to Christianity 16 years ago as they were promised a better life and better means of livelihood. Therefore, they returned back to their ancestral Hinduism.
The High court decision to allow SC/ST’s claim quota benefits will help many families who were converted out of their Hinduism in the past under false pretext of better life, but who continued to live a disadvantaged life devoid of both financial benefits and ancestral culture and traditions, to return back to their ancestral faiths and practices and also avail all financial benefits available for their upliftment. It is for a similar reason that even the Supreme Court had given a similar judgment in February.