Caste & Conversion: Jay Lakhani

Jay Lakhani, Director Hindu Council UK

Jay Lakhani, Director Hindu Council UK

Compounding one atrocity committed in the name of religion (Caste) with another atrocity still being committed in the name of religion (Conversion).

Yesterday the undersigned was invited by Premier Christian Radio to participate in a debate with Sam Paul senior member of the All India Christian Council on the issue of caste and conversion. This is a very topical issue. Recently a couple of mainstream TV programmes have also focused on the issue of the outcastes or dalits in India.

My response was very clear. Hereditary hierarchical caste system is NOT Hinduism. It is an atrocity committed in the name of Hinduism and as such we condemn it in harshest terms. The only mention on what can be called the idea of ‘caste’ in the scriptures of authority of Hinduism is a mention in the Rig Veda that the aptitude of a person must be taken into account to decide what role he should play in society. There is no mention of a hereditary or hierarchical caste system. The undersigned had to fight the education system in this country to ensure that such misconceptions about Hinduism are not taught or paraded as Hinduism in the education system.

Just as crusades or inquisitions committed in the name of Christianity should not be equated to Christianity the hereditary hierarchical caste cannot and should not be equated to Hinduism. The caste system is a socio-economic feature; it does not originate from religion. That is why despite the efforts of religious leaders like Vivekananda or Gandhi to eradicate it, it continues to persist. The only way it will be eradicated is by the fast changing social and economic landscape of India. I gave an example of how it is a socio-economic stratification and nothing more. I explained: I meet thousands of Hindu youngsters in the UK and I ask them, ‘Are any of your parents insisting that you become a shoemaker because your forefathers were shoemakers?’ They respond, ‘NO, they want us to become doctors or take on some such profession.’ I ask them, ‘If a Brahmin boy comes to you and shows off what do you do?’ They say, ‘We show him rude hand gestures’. ‘Oh dear!’ I tell them, ‘In that case surely you are no longer Hindus because you do not believe in hereditary hierarchical caste system.’ They say, ‘No we are Hindus!’ A change in socio-economic landscape managed to demolish the caste system in one generation! The same is about to happen in modern India. It is the IT revolution that will demolish this obnoxious social division once and for all.

Justin Brierley the interviewer then moved the discussion to the issue of Christian missionaries using the ploy of helping the dalits or the out-castes as a proselytising opportunity in India. My comments were very cutting and need to be circulated in the media as well as the political and interfaith circuits in the UK. I said, ‘It would be wonderful if the Christians wanted to give a helping hand to the destitute in any developing country. But if they give a piece of bread with one hand and with the other hand steal the most precious thing these poor people possess, ‘their souls’ then this exercise is a crass atrocity committed in the name of Christianity. The reason why there are 2 billion Christians in the world is not because they discovered Christ but because Christianity was shoved down their throats!

Conversion can best be described as a perversion in the name of religion. The Hindu is a pluralist, he believes there are many pathways for making spiritual progress, all religions have their own paths, so asking a person to change his religion is like asking a river that has come down on one side of the mountain to go back up and come down another way! I also mentioned that I interact with many Christian ministers who tell me, ‘Jay, we are not converting, we are just spreading the good news!’ I tell them, ‘What a wonderful ploy to convert, but you see there is a problem. The person standing next to you and waving his arms frantically is the Prophet of Arabia and he is claiming that he has the latest edition of the news, and you know what they say about news, old news is no news! If you think that you have some god given right to go out and convert other people then remember there will be someone snapping at your heels keen to convert you. In the name of conversion you are sowing seeds of division in our multi-faith society.’

Then our discussion went to the issue of; Are the outcaste Hindus who convert to Christianity, better off? I was very pleased that Dr Sam the dalit leader from All India Christian council agreed with me when he said, ‘Unfortunately that is not the case, the caste discrimination continues between the upper caste Christians and lower caste Christians, the upper caste sit in the front of the church and the lower caste sit at the back!’ The Hindu dalit becomes a Christian dalit! So what is being achieved by conversion? Nothing! A socio-economic issue can only be resolved by socio-economic means and not by conversion.

I had to pass some very sharp comments on Evangelising lobby of Christianity. I said, ‘Why don’t they go out and convert their own in this country and make them better Christians so that instead of crowding the shopping malls on Sundays they go to Church? Why do they have to go to the third world and target some destitute, desperate people to spread their good news? Is it because they want to make up in quantity what they lack in quality? (Meaning: only the ignorant, destitute, desperate people in the third world are foolish enough to embrace Christianity while the educated Christians in the first world are leaving it in droves!).

I explained why conversion is damaging for any society. I said, ‘Every time a person converts, that religion not only loses an ally, it has now to contend with an enemy of that religion. The converts become the most vociferous critics of the religion they leave behind. Hence any mass conversion will produce a rift in the fabric of that society. If for example five percent of the Christian population in this country converts to Islam, we will have civil war. Conversions or proselytising activities are worrisome activities that are turning religions into divisive forces in our society and must be checked immediately.

I said, ‘The mainstream Hindus in the UK; not some right-wing extremists but the mainstream Hindus I represent are getting fed up with the continued evangelising activities of the church in India. To show our displeasure all Hindu groups have recently walked out of the Hindu Christian listening exercises that were being planned. We are sending a clear message to the church to clip back its evangelising activities in India else the Hindu Christian relationship in the UK will be seriously strained.

Jay Lakhani
Director Hindu Council UK

(Congratulations to Hindus in UK for strong opposition of conversions in India. Hindus in UK are more alert and active than Hindus in India. Hindus in India need to learn from them-Editor)

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