This Christmas season is pretty different from the many previous ones, both personally and politically. Leaving the personal for later, the politics of Christmas has captured attention. Most part of it being unnecessary, unwarranted and unscrupulous. Couple of issues, the diktat to celebrate Christmas as ‘good governance day’ by HRD ministry and the ’Anti Conversion Bill’ pertaining to the conversion-reconversion matter has put the spotlight on a festival like never before.
Having studied in a missionary school, this issue is of particular interest to me and many of my classmates. The school never imposed any of the missionary beliefs upon its students. Yes it did not celebrate Ganesh Puja, which was celebrated with aplomb in the state high schools (although they did not celebrate Christmas). But Christmas was celebrated in a fashion which had no religious underpinnings that would make anyone uncomfortable. Did any of the students convert to Christianity after studying there for a decade? No.
22nd January 1999. Graham Staines with two children was burnt alive in Keonjhar, Odisha. At an impressionable age and in class X, this horrific crime brought to fore the various narratives of conversion. The topic also came up during various discussions in classroom and with teachers who were priests. Not only did we discuss the matter dispassionately, at no time was truth suppressed. Article 25, the mission of the missionaries, the ethics of it, everything related was kept on the debate table. Such was the secular environment of my school.
If Article 25 has allowed everyone to 'propagate' (other than professing and practicing) ones religion, what is the legal tenacity that must apply to conversions that aren’t forced? If someone is forced, he/she will not they report the matter nevertheless? What is important, god or food? Is it ethical to take advantage of one’s poverty, one’s non-egalitarianism to convert? Is reconversion a ploy to capture the various quotas that the state provides?
Proselytisation (forceful conversion) by luring has been the mischief evangelists have been up to since long. Though ethically it is wrong, is there a legal framework to address this issue effectively. If mass conversions are to be banned, what number would the ceiling be at? Reconversions are legally fine too. It is after all ones right to choose ones religion. But the spectacle that these, both conversions and reconversions, create and the social engineering they intend to bring about spell danger for the social fabric. Sadly it is the poor who is the football in this game. A Babasaheb becoming Buddhist, a Dharmendra becoming Muslim, doesn’t create flutter.
Such and many other questions have answers and they are rational ones. Education, they say, liberates you. It takes you above these petty matters, the squabbles of the fanatics, the politics of religion. Looking at the hate spewed in social networks, it doesn’t appear to be true. The ministry handling education perhaps thinks Christianity as a foreign festival which need not be granted the importance of a holiday. Saraswati Sishu Mandir’s, a chain of saffron schools, have long been denying holiday on national holidays like Eid.
The wide fold and acceptance in Hinduism is its beauty. The cakes of Christmas are to be enjoyed, and so are the carols. The festivity in winter, the warmth that it brings is important. The divisiveness in labels is a scourge that eats up a society. What bigger label than religion after all, which thankfully or otherwise, has a uniting factor like no other.