Dr. Giri K.
Professor of Religion, BD,M.Th and D.Th. (Religion)
At the end of 2014 India has witnessed a rejuvenated proselytizing movement launched by Sangh Parivar in the name of ‘Ghar Wapsi’. The word ghar means house or home and it also would imply a family of ancestors, descendants, and kindred; or a race of persons from the same stock. The word wapsi is of Persian origin that denotes ‘to return’. Thus ‘ghar wapsi’ literally means ‘homecoming’ or ‘to return home’, implying ‘to return to the place of abode’ or to return to the family of ancestors. Ghar wapsi today refers to ‘returning to the original religion’ or ‘returning to the former religion which one left.’ In fact, Ghar Wapsi is a series of conversion activities from non-Hindu religions to Hinduism initiated by Sangh Parivar in the recent times. It aims at mass conversion and re-conversion of the non-Hindus to the Hindu community. The Sangh Parivar insists that the people of India who left Hindu religion and embraced other faiths need to return to the original faith. Mohan Guruswamy, a political commentator, wrote on the penultimate day of 2014 that the Article 25(1) of the Constitution is being challenged by the ghar wapsi campaign of the Sangh parivar. He further wrote, “The year that began with paisa wapsi is now ending with ghar wapsi.”
Ghar wapsi is the latest in the whole proselytizing and re-conversion devices ventured by the Sangh Parivar in the subcontinent. Therefore this paper, having discussed the effect of ghar wapsi movement, explains its relation
with shudhi, paravartan and Hinduisation process. Subsequently this paper critically analyzes the implications of the concept ghar wapsi on racial elements and indigenous people in India. It ends with the discussion on the Christian responses to ghar wapsi.
The Effect of Ghar Wapsi Movement
The ghar wapsi efforts initiated by Vishva Hindu Parishad (V.H.P.) in Kerala resulted in the conversion of many families, whereas in Gujarat almost 100 people who belonged to the tribal community claimed to have changed their religion. There are also reports that many Muslim families from Agra converting to Hindu faith. Dharm Jagran Samiti aggressively involve in ghar wapsi with the target of making India a Hindu nation by 2021 in order to restore the glory of Hindu religion. Of the very recent, the 4th All India Hindu Convention or Adhiveshan (June 11-17, 2015) organized by Sanantan Sanstha and Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (HJS) in Goa passed a resolution to declare the Bharat (India) and Nepal as Hindu Rashtra (Nation). Their 12 resolution also included complete ban of conversion and cow slaughter.
Ghar Wapsi and Shuddhi Movement
Although ghar wapsi has gained wide spread attention in the recent past, its phenomenon has been existing in India for over a century. It all began with the founding of Arya Samaj by Swami Dayananda Saraswati (1824-1883) who had called the people ‘back to the Vedas’. It was a call for the Hindu communities to the Vedic Hinduism from Pauranic religion with all its varna system and evil practices. It was also a call to the ‘origin’ of the Hindu dharma. Arya Samaj has been offering service for the procedures of conversion to Hinduism with the introduction of Vedic purification ceremony called shuddhi karma. It involves performing a homam, a ritual conducted in front of fire and chanting Vedic hymns directed by a priest. Once this 90 minutes long ceremony is completed a certificate of Conversion to Hinduism is issued by Arya Samaj. No doubt, one of the agendas of shudhi was social reform by abolishing untouchability. Its aim was also to convert the ‘outcasts’ from other religions to Hinduism, and to elevate their status by assimilating them with the mainstream society.
The first incident of shudhi by Arya Samaj was reported way back in 1877 when a Muslim man was converted. The first mass conversion initiated by Arya missionaries took place in 1908 when they undertook a tour in various parts of India, urging for the reconversion of Muslims. Inspired by the Vedic Mission of Dayananda, Swami Shraddhananda founded the ‘Bharatiya Hindu Shuddhi Mahasabha’ (Indian Hindu Purification Council) and thereby further kindled the shudhi movement especially among the new generations. Its consequence was the flashpoint between Hindus and Muslims, ultimately leading to the assassination of Shraddhananda on 23rd December 1926. Even after his death the conversion and re-conversion to Hinduism continued. However, a mega Shudhi event in commemoration of his death was organized by Agniveer on ‘Shardhananda Balidan Divas,’ i.e., on 23 December 2012, and thousands of people are claimed to have returned to Hindu fold.
Ghar Wapsi, Paravartan and Hinduisation
Yet another movement that serves the same purpose of ghar wapsi is paravartan. Following the footsteps of Arya Samaj, VHP carried out the reconversion process which they call paravartan (transformation) by bringing even the tribal people into its fold. Manjari Katju points out that there are constant efforts by Hindu nationalist organizations such as the RSS and the VHP to fashion the Indian nationalism on religio-cultural terms. He further states: “Intimidation, coercion and … “reconversion” are therefore the viable ways by which the politics of Hindu nationalism … deal with the non-Hindu groups, as a part of long-term political strategy of conscious Hinduisation.” Such efforts made Hinduism a proselytizing religion. In view of paravartan and in the pretext of Christians and Muslims planning to make Hindus a minority in thirty years, the VHP devised three strategies in propagating ‘dharma’: “checking religious conversions (to Islam or Christianity), “reconversion” to Hinduism, and building of strong samskaras.”
Implication of Ghar wapsi on Racial Elements in India
There were diverse races and cultures that had existed in India during prehistoric and historic ages. Although scholars have different views on the racial theories, R.C. Majumdar incorporates the views of B.S. Guha which he calls it as “the most authoritative view” that bring out the cultural diversity in the Indian subcontinent. Having analyzed the physical features of the people of India, Biraja Sankar Guha has recognized six major racial groups who formed the population of India and his view as described by Majumdar is noted here.
1. Negroids or The Negrito : They belong to Paleolithic age, are believed to be the immigrants from Africa but now almost extinct from India, although a small group is said to survive in the Andamans and the traces of their races are also found among many tribes in different parts of India.
2. Proto-Australoids : They came from the West but got mixed with the Negroids who came before and the Mongoloids who came after them, giving rise to Kol or Munda type and other tribal types seen all over India. Their speeches belong to the Austric family of languages.
3. The Mongoloids: They reached India from China, Mongolia, Tibet, Malaysia, Thailand and Myanmar. This race is divided mainly into two subgroups – Paleo-Mongoloids, presently representing the tribes living in Assam and the Indo-Burmese frontiers; and Tibeto-Mongoloids who must have emigrated from Tibet in a later period into Sikkim and Bhutan.
4. Mediterranean Peoples: Coming from the West and having different subtypes, they spoke Dravidian languages, presently representing Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam of South India. instalment
5. The Alpine, Dinaric and Armenoid : They form one physical type, who probably came from Central Asia. They are found scattered all over India, particularly forming elements of population of Bengal, Orissa and Gujarat.
6. The Nordic group : Coming from Mesopotamia about the second millennium BCE, they spoke the Aryan language. They are believed to overpower the Dravidians and found their home in the northern part of India. In the course of time they too mingled with other races and ethnic groups, and it is said, “… in the contemporary world there has been too much intermingling of blood.”
The mixture of all these six types of racial group gave rise to the present population in India and none of them is found in pure form. If ghar wapsi implies ‘returning home’ then the people of this land need to trace back their origin in any one or a couple of above mentioned racial group and have to go back to Mesopotamia, Central Asia, Western parts of the world or Africa for that matter. This is not practical in the contemporary period. It is, therefore, impossible to go back to any of the original races when the theory of ghar wapsi applies in the modern times.
Implication of Ghar Wapsi on Indigenous People
The 1931 census gives an account of several faith traditions followed by indigenous people. The major primal ethno-religious sacred orders are Bhili Dharma and Gondi Dharma with followers of around 40 lakhs each, and Santali Dharma with 35 lakhs etc. Besides these there were also Mahapurushiya Dharma with followers of 4,85,000, Kabir Panti Dharma with 4,93,000; Satnami Dharma with 3,89,000, Panchpiria Dharma with 17,60,000, Nanakshahi with 2,41,000, etc. These non-Aryan sacred orders were enumerated in the census record till 1931 as ‘animistic religions’ or ‘tribal religions’. However, some significant changes happened in India in relation to conversion and around the period of shift from the colonial rule to self-government. Indigenous people were converted to Hinduism from primal faiths by different means. The factors led to the Conversion are as follows:
a) Conversion by Sanskritization
When the British started integrating isolated parts of the subcontinent into the British Raj, most of the inroads of national level were made into the indigenous habitats. The roads, hostel system and civil government have made transport and communication possible with the tribal areas. This paved the way for the Brahmin missionaries to contact with them. Although conversion of these people was difficult, some Aryan missionaries managed to become priests to some primal groups. However, such conversions forced the primal people, who were casteless, to occupy a lower or the lowest position in the ladder of varnashrama system.
b) Conversion by Fiction
One of the methods of conversion to Hinduism was conversion by fiction. The Brahmins discovered that the head of the primal people is a Hindu of unexceptional antecedents and present him either a brand new genealogy, which is traced back to some God in the Hindu pantheon or potentate in Hindu mythology. Thus, the Koch Kings are said to have descended from Siva. The Mikirs told that they were descendents of Bali Raja therefore genuine Hindus.
c) Conversion by the Census enumerator
The biggest number of conversions, however, during this period was taken place by what must be called ‘conversion by pen’. They claim that in the interest of national unit, there is no harm in writing all the primal people ‘Hindus’ and that after all the Primal Religions were similar to the ‘lower orders of Hinduism’. This is how the vigorous conversion program was executed. The enumeration of the primal people’s data for census being in those days entirely in the hands of literate, particularly of the Brahmin community and persuaded to write the religion of the primal people as ‘Hindu’. According to the 1891 census 60% of the primal people in India practiced Primal Religions.
The above accounts shed the light into the fact that different modes of strategies have played in the past to account the indigenous people as Hindus. Therefore the question remains, don’t they require to go back to the primal religions per se if khar wapsi to be implemented for the indigenous people rather than Hindu dharma?
Ghar Wapsi and Christian Responses
Many Christian leaders and organizations have responded to the whole episode of ghar wapsi in various ways. Some Christian leaders in Kerala have reinterpreted and romanticized the concept of ghar wapsi and others have vehemently criticized. In the former category Biju P. Samuel interprets ghar wapsi from Biblical perspective, stating that the prodigal son who lived away from his father returned home and found his real home. Then he insists that meeting Jesus Christ is the real ghar wapsi. In the same line, Rev. T.J. Samuel points out that ghar wapsi implies returning to God the creator in order to restore the relationship with God and to use the God-given ability.
On the other hand, in the second category, Yuganthya Sandhesham, a Christian monthly bulletin, puts up a challenge to the whole episode of ghar wapsi by pausing a question, ‘if the Dalits, Muslims or Christians return to the so called ‘original’ or ‘former’ religion, in which category of caste group would they belong in the varnashrama scheme of Hinduism?’ Church of God Writers Fellowship argued that ghar wapsi is the ‘new form of cultural fascism’ therefore inappropriate to a secular country like India.
In fact, conversion is opposed by many prominent religious and political groups in India, but many of them are silent when it is applicable to Hindu religion in the pretext of ghar wapsi. Thomas Thonnaykal writes that when Christians lead a non-Christian into Christian faith, this process is considered as forced conversion or proselytizing whereas when a non-Hindu is being led to the Hindu fold it is counted as only ‘returning home’.
Moreover, taking into consideration the above racial descriptions one can assert that ghar wapsi in the sense of ‘to return home’ or ‘returning to the original abode’ is unfeasible. If we insist on ghar wapsi with regard to indigenous people they would be forced to return to their forefathers’ religion or the primer religious faiths rather than to Hindu dharma. Therefore the entire episode of ghar wapsi as turning out to be proselytizing movement it has to be considered as a political gimmicks that fabricate the Indian society at the cost of the secular nature of our country thereby jeopardizing the human freedom and basic human rights in India.