Political Economy of Ghar Wapsi: A perspective from below

 

Nikhil Walde

nikhil waldeAfter its electoral victory, BJP's entire politics revolves around the Hindu religion which has brought about a dismal political scenario in India. The state seems to be departing from constitutional democracy- from the modern function of a state to the traditional monocratic form of state. All this is quite evident, for instance, in the demand for making the Bhagvad Gita (the sacred book of Brahmins) the national book; or the current prime minister of India gifting Bhagvad Gita to the US President, and most recently the 'Ghar Wapsi' programs (the conversion of minorities to Hinduism) organized in different parts of the country. These programs have been systematized by Rashtriya Swayamsevak  Sangh (RSS) and its affiliated organizations like Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal, and are mainly aimed at converting non-Hindus into the Hindu religion.

All this is in line with the political ideology of RSS-led BJP to make India into a 'Hindu Rashtra'. And for achieving this end they have started this dictatorial program of Ghar Wapsi, whose targets are the poor "Minorities", particularly Christians and Muslims. The State and the civil society organizations should focus on the nation's socio-economic development and to protect the rights of people, particularly those who still live below the poverty line and even suffer from discrimination and marginalization. Instead, this government is busy in forcing religious conversions under the name of so-called Ghar Wapsi.

Is this Ghar Wapsi program also meant for those upper castes who converted to Christianity and Islam or is it meant only for the poor lower caste Christians and Muslims, asks Gopal Guru in his article Return to Which Home? He argues that the upper caste men and women who converted to Christianity and Islam are not ideal for the 'Ghar Wapsi' program because it does not constitute an appropriate case for them, as they enjoy the same dominance and privilege as does a Hindu. Hence, this program is only directed at the lower castes, which form the majority.

It can be argued that the defenders of Hindu religion have a clear political motive of gaining the support of the lower caste Christians and Muslims by converting them into Hindu religion, so that they (Hindus) could establish numerical majority for the sake of their own political interests.

Islam and Christianity have always been considered as non-Indian religions and people's inclination towards these religions has always instilled fear among the rightists (Hindus) who see this as a giant danger to Hindu ideology. These people mainly belong to the "lower castes" (Dalits), thus Ghar Wapsi is predominantly focused on these "poor" Dalit Minorities and is done in order to preserve and maintain Hindu (upper caste) supremacy. This Ghar Wapsi program also shows how Hindu fundamentalists are exploiting the economic vulnerability of minority groups, mainly Dalits, by making promises of providing Ration Cards and Aadhar Cards in order to influence their conversion into Hinduism.

The State is responsible and mandated to work for the welfare of the marginalized and disadvantaged groups in the country by ensuring good opportunities for them through proper policies aimed at their socio-economic development. However, it can be seen how the State here is using economic backwardness as a tool to compel these groups to convert into Hinduism so that a Brahmin Hindu political organization can extract political support from them to continue their domination.

RSS, VHP and Bajrang Dal are leading these religious conversions and this is a clear menace to modern democracy. The fundamental rights enshrined in the Indian constitution give the freedom to choose and practice her religion without any extortion or promotional greed to every individual. The Ghar Wapsi is not only a religious matter to deal with but is also directly linked to caste factors and the perpetuation of brahminical caste hegemony through bringing lower caste groups into the Hindu fold. Apart from the freedom of religion, the subject of secularism was added to the constitution, but the nature of secularism itself has lost its meaning in the Indian context. The state is supposed to respect all religions equally and should not interfere in any particular religion. Yet, the dominance of Hindu religion in every sphere of the state, in every government institution, continues till now.

chief priestess

The rigidity of caste, the practice of untouchability and the notion of purity and pollution are the prime constructs of Hindu religion to uphold brahminical supremacy over the larger Dalit Bahujan population. Its origin lies in the manusmriti, vedas and puranas (sacred books of the Brahmins) which give sanction to these immoral and ruthless notions. In India, one often hears a Hindu say that he is modern but at the same time he is also traditional. Similarly, the present government on one side claims to work for the substantial economic growth and development of the country by using modern means like industrialization, FDI, expansion of the market and for development, and at the same time runs programs like Ghar Wapsi through manipulating the economic backwardness of minorities to make them further socially backward. These minority groups essentially belong to Dalits or lower castes who would mostly not be able to enjoy the fruits of economic advancement and social status which is in great measure dominated by Brahmins.

If one were to dig into historical roots, one would find how dalits were treated as outcastes. The rightist and the fundamentalist Hindus who are talking about Ghar Wapsi forget Hinduism was actually never a home for Untouchables. As Dr. Ambedkar said, they were outside the 'hindu fold'. Hence, they were never allowed to enter Hindu temples and practice their rituals. So then what is this drama of Ghar Wapsi? It's not that the current state and its rightist organizations have any positive intention towards the minorities by converting them to Hinduism, but it serves their particular interest of maintaining the political power by accomplishing numerical strength of Hindus in order to gain a majority votes, based on their Hindu ideology (Katju, 2015).

Why should the lower caste or Dalits convert to this religion? What does this extremely inhuman religion which is antagonistic to modern democracy, provide to the people? Does this religion grant equal status to Dalits? Will it give self-respect and dignity to them? History shows that this uncivilized religion has given nothing but the social division based on caste and the notion of purity and pollution. Even Brahmin women have suffered a lot from the practices and customs of this religion, like Sati, child marriage and subordinated status in the society at large. This religion created a structure where every Ghar is ranked on the basis of varna which produces caste.

Dalits do not need any ghar or Ghar Wapsi now. They already have got their Ghar, the one built by Buddha, Phule, Shahu and Ambedkar's relentless struggle for humanity and self-respect, the foundation of which are the principles of equality, liberty and fraternity. This Ghar is open for everyone who believes in these principles, who want to develop himself and nation, to get rid of all sorts of discriminations as Ambedkar envisaged in his "Prabuddha Bharat".

According to Ambedkar, 'Hinduism is primarily based on the caste system, a system which encourages aloofness, inequality and exploitation'. So, how would this religion or the program of Ghar Wapsi, which itself perpetuates the caste system, give self-respect and emancipate the Dalits? Even if, for the sake of argument, we consider that the political mandate of Ghar Wapsi, as the defenders of Hindus say, will be to give "upper caste status" to the "Dalits" within Hinduism, it still keeps open the question of interrogating Hinduism, which is totally constructed on traditional hierarchical thinking and has an antagonistic nature to the modern value of citizenship. A religion where there is no scope for scientific knowledge, rationality and self-enlightenment. We do not want or need this kind of religion unless it is built on egalitarian principles. We should instead destroy the hierarchical social order based on caste, promote scientific knowledge, humanity, liberty, justice, self-respect and freedom, all of which are a prerequisite for the better functioning of society.

~

 References

Katju, M. (2015). The Politics of Ghar Wapsi. Economic & Political Weekly, 21-24.

Omvedt, G. (2006). Dalit Visions: The anti-caste movement and the construction of an Indian identity. New Delhi: Orient Blackswan.

Guru, G. (2015) Return to which home?http://roundtableindia.co.in/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=7958:return-to-which-home&catid=118&Itemid=131

Ambedkar, B. R. Annihilation of Caste with a Reply to Mahatma Gandhi. http://www.ambedkar.org/ambcd/02.Annihilation%20of%20Caste.htm

Ghar Wapsi: More than 100 tribal Christians converted to Hinduism in West Bengal. http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/ghar-wapsi-drive-reconversion-vhp-tribal-christians-converted-to-hinduism--jugal-kishore-praveen-togadia-west-bengal/1/415838.html

 Ghar Wapsi: Forced Mass Conversion To Hinduismhttp://inspire99.com/ghar-wapsi-forced-mass-conversion-hinduism/

~~~

 

Nikhil Walde, from Nagpur, is currently pursuing M.A. Social Work in Dalit and Tribal Studies and Action (DTSA) at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

Cartoon by Unnamati Syama Sundar.

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