India’s Christians are already converts — Whether voluntary or forced. Why traumatise them once again with the new demand for reconversion or ghar wapsi (returning home), asks OSWALD PEREIRA
I was born in a Christian family and lived in a village called Kolbad in Thana, now Thane. The Christian families lived in the centre of the village, in a cluster, with houses in narrow lanes at handshaking distance. Non-Christians — mostly Hindus and a sprinkling of Muslims — lived outside the cluster. They were in the minority in our village, with Christians constituting the majority. But whether we were from the so-called majority or minority community didn’t matter then.
We had great celebrations for Christmas, New Year and Easter. Weddings were special; merry-making extended for a week.
Hindus, too, celebrated their festivals with gay abandon, with loudspeakers mounted on top of the centuries-old banyan tree facing the village cross, blaring Hindi songs and an occasional English number like House of Bamboo. When Christians said their rosary at the cross during one of the Hindu festivals, the loudspeakers were turned off, as we prayed.
Christian and non-Christians lived in harmony as neighbours, exchanging greetings when they bumped into each other, though we never actively participated in each other’s celebrations and festivities.
But kids of all faiths — Christians, Hindus and Muslims — mingled freely in our village, our favourite meeting place being the shade of the banyan tree during the day and in front of the cross in the evening. The captain of our cricket team was Dattya, the son of a domestic help. Their family lived on the outskirts of our village. I looked up to Dattya — he was an ace cricketer and I was a poor player. Dattya’s brothers were among our playmates.
Dattya was a champion in breaking the handi during the Govinda celebrations in our village. I loved watching him scale up the human pyramid and crack the handi with the tip of his head claiming the prize for his group.
Christians — we are of the Catholic denomination — had what would be considered ‘non-Indian’ names and Portuguese surnames such as D’Silva, D’Penha, D’Sa, Dias, Rebello. The most common was Pereira.
Our ancestors were Hindus, mostly from the Palshikar Brahmin and Prabhu communities. The Portuguese missionaries converted our ancestors to Christianity in the 16th century, nearly 500 years ago. Christianity then came to be accepted as the religion in my village. Similar conversions took place in pockets of Bombain (Bombay) and Goa. Despite being converted to Christianity, Christians couldn’t wipe out their past. In our village, before the Catholic bride and bridegroom went to Church, they, with the marriage party in tow, visited the Shiva temple, behind the banyan tree, rang the temple bell, broke a coconut and paid obeisance to the Lord. A night before the wedding, the village well overlooking the cross was painted with strips of white paint and water was drawn from the well at midnight in a tradition named Umracha Pani. This was to appease evil spirits and bless the couple.
There are historical records to show that conversions were not entirely voluntary. Force, violence and material inducements of money and land were apparently wantonly used to swell conversion figures. I can only imagine the trauma that my ancestors might have suffered to accept a religion imposed on them.
That was history — a rather dark chapter in history — and it cannot be erased from the records, our memory and psyche. However, what was done cannot be undone. Those responsible have long left the country. But like the clock can’t be set back, to me personally, it doesn’t make sense to reconvert to the religion of my ancestors, or return home to the flock, like lost sheep. Reconversion would mean going through the process of changing my religion again and adopting a new set of beliefs and religious practices. It would entail me cutting off ties with family and friends from the Catholic community. I would have to explain and convince people whom I love why I am going back to the religion of my ancestors.
All of this would lead to a lot of upsets in my personal life — and I would end up experiencing the same kind of trauma my ancestors did when they were forced to embrace Christianity.
On the other hand, the lure of returning to the so-called majority community is great. For, isn’t there security in numbers? But trading-off my current religion for the benefits and security that majoritarianism is supposed to give may be nothing but opportunism.
Many of my ancestors, perhaps, had no choice but to convert. Now I have a choice not to convert again, because it is a freedom that is guaranteed by the Constitution, unlike when we were ruled by colonial masters.
I have, so far, been talking about the sociological aspect of reconversion. If reconverting from the sociological point of view doesn’t seem to make sense to me, when considered from the metaphysical or spiritual aspect, reconversion seems even more illogical.
God or the Supreme Being doesn’t belong to any religion. Jesus Christ, the so-called Son of God, was not a Christian, leave alone a Catholic. Krishna, believed to be the Supreme Godhead, too wasn’t Hindu. Christ and Krishna’s followers, though, called themselves Christians and Hindus.
What if I were to return home and reconvert to Hinduism and when my soul returned to where it came from, I found the Supreme Being was without name, form or religion. To my limited intellect, this is probably how it is.
It seems to me that to God, it won’t matter what religion we belonged to. I believe God is not an egotistical being who gives us brownie points for worship and adulation in a temple or church. An inner voice tells me that all that God wants me to be is a good human being; it doesn’t matter which community I belong to.
All my life, I didn’t feel any less human or an incomplete Indian for being Christian. So, returning home or ghar wapsi that a small section of my well-meaning countrymen are dangling before us as an inducement, won’t give me joy or security, at all.
Below an Indian Christian family singing Our Father or The Lord’s Prayer in Hindi
(First published as a lead story in Times of India’s, The Speaking Tree newspaper ‘Why should I reconvert ’ (speakingtree.in
Featured Image: Indian Christian family singing the Our Father or The Lord’s Prayer in Hindi.