Several issues have got mixed up in the heat generated by the 'Love Jihad' discussion. When placed in context, the real issues boil down to these two: patriarchy and conversions. The former is a threat to Hinduism (as it is to every religion), the latter is a challenge. Despite the crudity of the threats of the Yogi Adityanaths (who wants to convert 100 for every Hindu who leaves the fold), the broad statement of intent at least brings focus to the broader issue of conversions.
In an earlier article, I had talked about the improbability of 'Love Jihad' and that, if it exists, it must be in small pockets. I plan to take the argument further and suggest that the real villain may be patriarchy.
Let's start with the logic of 'Love Jihad'. The term presumably means wooing a potential partner from another religion - using false pretences or merely charm - with one clear purpose: religious conversion. Now there are two possibilities here, assuming, for a moment, that 'Love Jihad' is more than a fringe issue. One, a Muslim male tries to entice a Hindu/non-Muslim female; or a Muslim female tries to ensnare a male from another religion.
Since no one is even remotely accusing Muslim females of laying out “honey traps” for non-Muslim males in order to convert them, it automatically follows that for both religions concerned it is purely from a patriarchal concern. Any effort to protect "our women" from “those predators” will necessarily mean curtailing the already abridged rights of women. This, surely, cannot be acceptable to any society for the key to ending gender injustice is to consistently reduce patriarchal attitudes.
In Britain and the Netherlands, where Muslim gangs (for the most part) have been involved in targeting teenage girls for sex, drugs, gang-rape and child sex slavery (read details in this downloadable book here), 'Love Jihad' transforms into 'Sex Jihad'. Vulnerable Sikh girls were apparently targets of Muslim gangs in the 1980s, and White teenagers in the last 15 years. The scandal never came to light due to the political correctness of the British police force and the media, which found it difficult to name the culprits for fear of being accused of racism. But apart from political correctness, virulent patriarchy is the villain in 'Sex Jihad', too. Women are the only victims here.
'Love Jihad' and 'Sex Jihad' are thus tussles between two or more patriarchies - and I suspect that the vociferous concerns of Hindu organisations merely mean that they think the Muslim patriarchy is on a stronger wicket. And if we accept the reality that patriarchy does more harm than good, the battle to launch is against patriarchy and not Love Jihad.
The best way to do so would be for women from all religions to join hands to fight patriarchy on all sides.
However, even if the patriarchy issue is sorted out, it still leaves us with the broader concern over conversion - which has always been a huge issue with Hindu groups, especially the elite and middle classes. One cannot dismiss it as irrelevant, for conversions are a big deal for all religions. No religion likes losing out on numbers.
Here, the issue is really internal to Hindu society, which has - unlike Christianity and Islam, and like Judaism - never bothered about conversions. This is for two reasons - one attitudinal, one social.
First, as a pluralist and polytheistic religion, which god you worship has never been a concern for Hindus till recently - when the demographics showed a consistent decline in the Hindu population in every census of the 20th century – and will probably do so again in the 2011 census which has been kept under wraps.
Second, the predominance of caste over religion makes conversions - even if attempted in an organised way - difficult for Hindus due to this dilemma: which caste do you convert anyone to apart from just calling yourself a Hindu after conversion. Within Hindu society at large, this leaves you nowhere.
The Sangh Parivar - despite its formal commitment to a unified Hindu society - has tried to bypass this issue by calling conversions by it ghar vapasi - that is seeking only to return past converts away from Hinduism back to it. When they convert back, they may find that they are back to their old caste – and the recent re-conversion of a bunch of Valmikis back to Hinduism appears to prove this point. The Valmikis found that they had not benefited by converting to a “minority” status with the Seventh Day Adventists, and by returning to the Hindu fold they at least had a beneficial SC/ST caste identity.
Clearly, conversion is important to all religious groups. If it wasn't, Islam and Christianity would not put a premium on converting as many as possible to their god, and Hindus would not seek to politicise the issue to stop demographic change.
But, as I have stated earlier, dealing with conversions is something Hindus have to face head on. If they want to slow it down or prevent it, they have to look at weaknesses and doctrinal issues within.
One, they have to end patriarchy so that the female half of Hinduism has a vested interest in protecting and propagating their religion and culture. Not only that, priestly duties and other religion-related jobs have to be gender neutral.
Two, caste has to be reduced in importance steadily by making religion bigger than caste. This means Hindus should first eliminate internal resistance to inter-caste marriages at the very least. Even if caste remains important, there should be simple rules of entry and exit to and from a particular caste - something like a club with transparent rules for admission. But here they are up against electoral realities, where caste has often been used to counter religious identities.
Three, the biggest mindset change must relate to Hindu attitudes to conversion. This means formally deciding that Hindu society will be targeting converts from all religions, and not only seek the return of past converts through ghar vapasi. Ghar vapasi is a defeatist programme and also illogical.
If Hinduism is interested only in bringing back lapsed Hindus, it is an inward looking idea and self-defeating. It is also foolish because someone who has converted out of Hinduism - to, say, Islam - generations ago is born and bred Muslim, never mind the circumstances in which the original conversion took place.
The concept of ghar vapasi is relevant only to a recent convert in the first generation, and that too only in the initial years when the person (or group) has not yet fitted into his new religion. In all other cases it is an effect to seek converts, not reconversion or return.
If Hindus believe that conversions are a threat to them, they have no option but to be more like the proselytising religions of the world and start setting up institutional systems for expanding their reach. This will, of course, change the nature of Hinduism – but a religion that does not change will atrophy.
Updated Date: Sep 02, 2014 10:10 AM