This is Part: 3 of the article on Why conversion from Hinduism to other religions is highly discouraged.
In the part 1, some solid and important facts about the relevance of Hinduism has been discussed. Please read it first, before proceeding here.
In the part 2, some frequently asked questions from religion/ spiritual point of view have been answered, which can be read HERE.
In this 3rd and concluding part, some FAQs from sociological point of view are being answered.
Q: Are not the curse of untouchability and the vagaries of caste system the prime reasons for people to leave Hinduism and embrace religions like Islam?
There is no denial of the fact that practice of untouchability by Hindus was one of the prime reasons for a marginalized segment of society to get alienated with Hinduism. This alienation was rightly cashed in by vested interests from other religions to convert them to their religion citing their trump card of so-called equality.
The Varnashrama Dharma (classification of the society into 4 classes of people based on their work and role in society in Hinduism), which unfortunately got hardened and compartmentalized into a system of castes, is frequently blamed as another major reason for underprivileged people in the lower strata of the society to leave Hinduism for good.
While the caste system and the consequent demarcation of some of them as ‘upper’ and some as ‘lower’ can be blamed for some of the ills in the social practices of Hinduism, it is outright foolhardy to imagine that “Varnashrama” does not exist in any other religion or society!
In any other religion, where an overt caste or profession-based demarcation does not seemingly exist, there will invariably be the rich, powerful and influential persons who become de facto “upper castes” and the rest who are not so privileged become “lower castes”. Again there will indeed be different levels of people fitting between “upper” and “lower” depending on the clout they have with money, power or influence.
In any part of the world, in any decent society, you will find these sort of people:
- Teachers, professors, clergies, preachers, research scholars, scientists, intellectuals, linguistics — They are de facto equivalent to Brahmin class
- Politicians, statesmen, ministers, Top officers in administrative services, chiefs of Defense (Army/ Navy. Air force), military officers — they are de facto equivalent to Kshatriya Class.
- Businessmen, traders, Industrialists, small Industry owners — they are de facto equivalent to Vysya Class.
- Laborers, workmen, craftsmen, technicians — they are de facto equivalent to Shudra Class.
In the present times, even in India, it is common place to see Brahmins by caste being engaged in politics, civil services, trading/ business etc. Poor under-educated Brahmins too work as cooks, technicians etc. If a shudra by birth becomes a Sanskrit professor, he is in a way a Brahmin only, as per original definition.
Even if caste systems go, the social class differences between the rich and poor, the elite and the underdog are not going to vanish. That is the reality of human society.
A person from a so-called lower caste of Hinduism, by converting to Islam does not become equal with Muslims of the elite class. A converted Muslim worker doing a leather processing work at Vaniyampadi , Tamil Nadu does not become equal to a Mappila Muslim Businessman doing export of leather goods in Kannur, Kerala. An elite Muslim from Hyderabad Nawab’s family cannot claim equality with a native Saudi Arabian Sheik who owns a couple of oil wells! The same is applicable to any other religion that claims non-discrimination.
Another bare fact is that the religions that Hindus are wooed to get converted to claiming ‘equality’ or ‘love’ as their trump card are not in any way free from strife from internal squabbles. Islamic Shias and Sunnis are perennially in loggerheads with each other and the extent of bloodshed that took place in the past the and taking place at all the times within these “equals” is a never-ending history. To some extent it is true with regard to the “unconditional love” of Jesus Christ being practiced in the form of outright bitterness between Protestants and Catholics in Christianity.
Hence basically it is a “human failure” and not the shortcomings in a religion that causes divisions in society within a religion. No religion including Hinduism is ever going to be free from it. Consequently it is meaningless to get converted to another religion citing such shortcomings in one’s own religion.
Q: Is it not really good for the marginalized people to embrace another religion to get saved from discrimination and marginalization?
Actually, people getting converted to another religion will have to face a tougher social discrimination in reality, rather than equality.
The ground reality is that the discriminations practiced in a society are not going to vanish like a magic by getting converted to another religion. We should not fail to notice that untouchability was not something practiced by Brahmins (the upper class) alone. The truth is that in many Indian villages, it is the people in the so called ‘Shudra class’ (lower caste, also known as ‘Jaathi Hindus’) who contemptuously discriminate scheduled castes and refuse to accept them as equals. It is they who refuse equal access to Dalits in local temples, cremation grounds, tea shops and eateries.
If village people belonging to schedule caste convert to Christianity or Islam and remain in the same village, the mindset of the other Jaathi Hindus is not going to change in any way! In fact, their tendency to discriminate them will only get harder, because those converts are not part of their religion too now!
Even within one caste, if some people get converted to another religion, they are frowned upon by their community. They get socially alienated and marginalized. The emotional bonding with relatives gets broken. The new converts, out of their new association with the religion, tend to be very staunch in their new-found belief for two reasons: Firstly, they want to ‘prove’ to the outside world that they have indeed made the right choice and they want to take pride for their boldness; secondly, they are very eager to establish a closer association with people of the new religion. Thus the gaudy behavior of “over-enthusiastic-converts” irks and irritates their erstwhile community. The people of their new religion also become rather cautious and reserved to accept the converts who seem to display a ‘more-loyal-than-the-king’ attitude, as their social equals.
Another blatant ground reality across the globe seems to be that Muslims, despite whatever goodness they may possess as individuals, are getting alienated and marginalized amidst the people of most other religions. On account of the widespread practice of terrorism against other believers by misguided Islamic fanatics as though terrorism is part and parcel of their religion’s basic tenets and teachings, this religion is getting estranged in plural societies. Consequently, common and good hearted people belonging to this religion have to face the evils.
In India, people belonging to this religion, when they need a rented house accommodation, find it very difficult to get in localities where people of all other religions live in majority. Hence they are forced to seek living accommodation only in localities where their own religious people live in majority, which is not really good for communal harmony.
Q: What is wrong if a man or woman, truly loving a person of opposite sex from another religion, gets converted to the religion of his lover for the sake of marriage? Is it not a worthy sacrifice done for the sake of upholding true love that every religion seems to preach?
Such a question creates some disturbing questions on the veracity of the so called true love itself! If the Hindu is expected to forsake his/ her religion for the sake of love, what is the real stand of the other family that demands religious conversion as a basic condition for the consummation of love? It only means that their “love” of their religion is so powerful that they are not prepared for any compromise in the matter of human love!
It means that family thinks that their boy or girl involved in the love affair belongs to a superior class – a superior religion; if the other Hindu boy/girl really wants the marriage to take place, then he/she should essentially forego their “lower” religion with all its associated emotional bonds. It is the “inferior” one that needs to compromise, not the “superior” one!
It means the Hindu boy or girl foregoing his/her own religion for the sake of marriage is starting his very new life with a huge compromise – with a covert acceptance that he/she is an underdog. It is bound to leave a bad taste, an imperceptible emotional wound deep in the psyche. It is bound to bounce up in future at some opportune time to create serious emotional bickering or retaliation in some way.
It is bound to be so because religion is not just only a means of communication with God; religion is deeply bound to one’s culture, family traditions, principles, values, ethics, emotions and sentiments. Religion is somehow closely interwoven with many things including food habits, dressing habits, living habits, manners, interpretations on what is right and wrong and so on.
A person may not be religious from the point of view of practicing religious disciplines (like going to a temple, worshiping God, doing prayers, practicing austerities etc) and may even think that religion is not a practical necessity for conducting day today life. But in reality, his / her life right from childhood would have got molded with many habits, beliefs, sentiments and practices deeply associated with the religion. It is extremely difficult get rid of these associations even though one may externally forsake his/ her religion. It is these associations that can cause deep emotional conflicts between the spouses post marriage.
Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa used to explain this with a funny story. Once during Moghul rule, a Hindu Shakta (worshipper of divine mother Shakthi/ Kali) was forcefully converted to Islam by Moghul soldiers, at the point of sword. They would torture him and beat him and force him to shout “Allah”. The man would cry out “Allah” but in between, he would involuntarily shout, “Oh Jagadamba!” (Oh divine mother). Hearing that, the soldiers would beat him still harder. The man with folded hands would plead to the soldiers “Oh! Wait, wait. Please have a little patience and mercy on me. What can I do? I only want to call out “Allah, Allah” but this Jagadamba (divine mother) has already been occupying me up to my throat and she is pushing out your Allah and not allowing him to enter! What can I do?!”
Take for example a Hindu girl whose parents have the habit of practicing fasting on some of the holy days. She might have observed her parents eating only fruits or drinking only milk just one time in a day on such days. Or she might have seen them not eating any food, but taking water nevertheless. Or she might have seen them totally avoiding non-vegetarian food on some holy days. When they finish the fasting, she might have seen them eating simple food, without heavy spicing, avoiding garlic etc.
If such a girl relinquishes her religion and converts to Islam for the sake of marriage, the observance of fasting during Id festival would look very strange and extremely difficult to follow or practice for her. The very idea of keeping fast for the whole day time without taking even a sip of water might look too scary to her from health point of view; after fasting in day time, the practice of eating nutritionally very rich, highly spicy and non-vegetarian food with no holds barred during night time could look too contrary to the very lofty purpose of undertaking fast in day time to her. It is only natural for her deep-rooted Hindu culture, beliefs and principles. If she happens to be a vocal type, she might even question and criticize her husband about the veracity of such a fasting technique and surely she is bound to end up with hurting her husband’s religious sentiments and facing its consequences.
The above is just one example. There could be umpteen such things that would come up as conflicts between the spouses in the matters of habits, practices, sentiments and values.
If the erstwhile Hindu girl happens to be a person following some religious practices, her life will become much more miserable. She is bound to suffer from the loss of emotional necessities like going to temples, praying to her favorite Hindu God, singing devotional songs, celebrating festivals in the traditional way, the joy of the coming together of close relatives and exchanging of pleasantries on festival days etc. Marriages and other celebrations in Hindu families are such joyous occasions that she would have enjoyed so much in the past. Post marriage, practically she would get distanced from her erstwhile relatives on account of her conversion. Her relatives are bound to ignore her in extending invitations for her for such family functions. Even if she were invited, she would have to face lots of embarrassment in facing them.
Post childbirth, the conflicts are bound to get deeper. Her erstwhile religious leanings will prompt her to inculcate Hindu values, habits and cultural tendencies in her child; she may face very stiff opposition from her spouse and in-laws on such endeavors and it is bound to add more marital discards in her life.
Thus a short time compromise on the matter of religion for the sake of ‘love’ has every potential to wreck the very marriage itself in the long run.
To summarize all the 3 parts of this article series,
- Hinduism is such an ancient and so well established a religion lacking in nothing, that anyone discarding this religion and converting to other religion can only be faulted for ignorance and misguided adventurism or opportunism.
- Hinduism is never concerned with attracting and converting people of other religions to Hinduism.
- It is only in Hinduism that there has been a never ending and continuous arrival of Avatars and Saints at all times. Many of such saints are most sought after by earnest seekers from other religions too for spiritual guidance. These saints did not support people converting from Hinduism to other religions.
- It is a total misunderstanding of Hinduism if people believe sinners have no scope for redemption in the religion.
- It is foolhardy to believe that converted people get into a classless society without any discrimination. No religion in the world can assure cent percent universal love, equality and freedom from class conflicts and strife.
- Religion plays a major role in one’s culture, habits, tastes, lifestyle, principles, values and ethics. These influences follow one even after converting to another religion and have strong potential to cause internal and external conflicts. Love marriages happening after a religious conversion have every potential to end up in strife on account of these factors.