The winter session of Indian Parliament, especially the upper house (Rajya Sabha), was a complete washout with no major bills allowed to be tabled. It’s a different issue that BJP again sought the ordinance route to bail itself out.The ruling party is of course getting a taste of their own medicine. The one topic that was almost solely responsible for stalling the proceedings this winter session was the issue of Religious Conversion. The news of VHP/RSS organizing for re-conversion programs for people who the organizers believe were forcibly converted to some other religion. These programs, tackily called, Ghar Vapsi or Home Coming were to assist people to return back into the Hindu fold. Though the National Government was not directly involved in any of these sessions, however it was conspicuously standing in support by asking for a strong Anti-Conversion law. My personal take on this issue is that this is a complete non-issue for the Central Government to waste time on and methods to divert attention from more urgent topics of importance. Let me explain why I think so in a bit.
Conversion/Re-Conversion a non-issue:
As per 2011 census Muslim’s constitute 14.4% and Christians 2.34% of the Indian population. If we observe the changing dynamics of religious demographics since the 1951 census, the Muslim population grew from 9.9% to 14.4% in 2011 and Christian population grew from 2% to 2.34%. It is widely expected that the 2011 census results would show the Hindu population dip below 80% for the first time since Independence. Certainly this would be a cause of worry for many, what compounds this worry is the fact that Islam is the fastest growing religion in India as observed in the data provided above. The Hindu population dipped from 85% in 1951 to 79.6% in 2011.
Using some simple mathematics:
Change in Hindu population since 1951 = 85 – 79.6% = 5.4%
Change in Muslim population since 1951 = 14.4 – 9.9% = 4.5%
Change in Christian population since 1951 = 2.34% -2% = 0.34%
Even if we assume that the entire dip in Hindu population was because of conversions then we are talking about 4.84% conversions over a period of 6 decades. Is this really that big an issue that can’t be left to the state governments or local authorities to deal with?
Multiple researches have been carried out on the religious demographics in India by various institutes with both leftward and rightward inclination, across the world. Interestingly the conclusion drawn by both are pretty similar. They both conclude that undoubtedly Islam is the fastest growing religion in India, and they both conclude that this growth of Islam is due to higher birth rate. Only factor that these researches differ with each other is the reason for the higher birth rate. It is important to note that none of the researches talk about ‘conversion’. Muslim women, as per the research, have been found to be me more fertile than women from other religions. The reason behind this is still not concluded upon. Education, Poverty and poor participation in child planning measures are the three front runners in this attempt explain for the observed phenomenon.
These researches have also shown that the dip in Hindu population is expected because of higher participation of Hindu women in family planning measures initiated in 1960-70s. So the entire dip in Hindu Population is not because of conversion but because of lower fertility rates among Hindu women. Of course what has also emerged is women from comparable low family income tend to show similar fertility rates irrespective of their religion. This theory is also not without its critics and the reason for this phenomenon is inconclusive. Reduced decision making powers of women and access to family planning are the possible identified reasons.
Hinduism and Conversion:
The Hinduism that I know of and one that I understand hasn’t got any provision of conversion or re-conversion. One has to be born a Hindu; it is not a religion that has any option for proselytization. In fact it is not an organized religion like Christianity or Islam. By organizing re-conversion drives the so called saviors of Hinduism are trying to make it an organized religion, which it is not nor will it ever be. Also caste plays an important role in being a Hindu, what caste would the re-converted people be part of? There is also a double speak by BJP on this matter. On one hand it expresses support for the 1995 Supreme Court ruling which declares Hinduism as a way of life than a religion, on the other hand by supporting such Ghar Vapsi drives it is attempting to convert Hinduism into an organized religion!
BJP’s Game Plan:
Why is BJP doing this? For an issue that is so small in scale and something that could be well handled by State Governments, why is this being made into such a big issue? I think these are all efforts towards social consolidation. Three factors make me come to this conclusion. Firstly Modi’s record in Gujarat and repeated mention of 2019 elections; Secondly BJP came to power with only 31% of vote share, which means many Hindus are still not voting for them; Thirdly BJP lacks the numbers in Rajya Sabha, and certainly won’t have the numbers for the next 3 years so important bills might get stalled. Fourthly there are many failures that the current Government doesn’t want people to pay too much of attention on. BJP today is focused on installing BJP led or partnered governments in as many states as possible and hence bringing up issues which can permanently shift loyalties of people towards themselves. Topics like Love Jihad or Religious Conversion have very few fence sitters and would divide the people clearly into BJP or non-BJP. There are issues that have silently happened and have not been highlighted as much required; Russia sold a large consignment of arms to Pakistan last month and would continue to do so knowing the sanctions it faces from West, China is investing $35m on infrastructure in Pakistan and USA has committed $1.1m in the energy sector. The growth rate of India for Q2 of FY 14-15 has dipped below the Q1 growth rate. Whole Sale inflation has hit zero, which means there are possibilities of deflation. Rapes in the National Capital and other parts of the country go on unabated. Rather than addressing these pressing issues, the Government has decided to pursue issues that would ensure social consolidation. Infact Modi’s silence on these matters is loud and clear!
Having said what I said, I still need to say that conversion is certainly an issue that needs its due attention, especially because of none of the objectives behind religious conversion being met and it is only compounding the problem. Forcible conversions are certainly condemnable, however voluntary conversions are a people’s right. The larger issue of course is the need for reforms within Hinduism. It is essential that all Hindus do a thorough introspection. There is a need rid itself of the evils that have accumulated over the years due to incorrect interpretation of scriptures or malpractices of followers or irrelevant doctrine. Hope petty politics doesn’t overtake more important topics.