- Sangeeth Kini
Recently, I was travelling from Mumbai to Chennai on a flight. Next to my seat sat a young man. We started chatting. He told me that he hailed from a small town in Tamil Nadu. He also told me about his new job as a Manager and the training he underwent in Mumbai for this job. He spoke to me about his previous job experiences, and was seemingly proud of his achievements. I felt happy to learn about his progress in life. He also asked me about my profession and showed keen interest to know more about my industry. I liked his simplicity and his inquisitiveness to learn.
He asked my name which I answered, and I asked his name. He told me that his name is Srihari alias George. I was a bit unsure about his name and asked him more about it. He said his name at the time of his birth was Srihari. However, his family got converted to Christianity when he was very young, therefore he got re-named as George. This time I was the one who became inquisitive to know more. He narrated to me that when he was young, his parents were very poor. His dad made huge losses in the business and had huge debt. One day, his mother visited her brother to share her problems. Her brother (who converted to Christianity two years back) advised her to come with her family to the church next day.
Srihari alias George continued: “My mother along with my brother and me went to the church next day morning and kneeled down before the altar for a long time. Seeing us, a lady by the name Gracy Aunty came to us and enquired about us. My mother told her about our poor financial situation. Hearing that Gracy Aunty offered to sponsor the entire education of my brother and myself, if our family converted to Christianity.”
George continued: “ My father was actually against the idea of getting converted. Then one uncle named Joseph who had some mineral water business agreed to appoint my father as Distributor for his business. Finally, we got converted and with the help of Gracy aunty and Joseph uncle we could study as well as my father could pay off his debts”.
I commented, “Well, so you converted for money, right?”
George: “No No. We did not convert for money”
Me: “But you just told me that you went to the church and you got financial support and you converted”
George: “Yes, but I believe in Jesus”.
Me: “That’s fine. Now that you have converted to Christianity you must believe in Jesus. But the fact remains that the reason for your conversion is the monetary benefit. See, I am not against anyone choosing any faith of his own free will, just like A.R Rehman chose Sufism. But to change ones faith for monetary benefit….I am somehow against it”.
George offered me no response. I continued.
Me: “ Dear friend, I am not against any religion. My belief system says that whether you follow Hinduism, Christianity, Islam or any other religion - everything leads to the same truth”.
George : “I also agree that all religions lead to the same God”.
Me : “But Christianity does not believe that all religions lead to the same God because they propagate that their God is the only God. But the larger issue is, why would Christians try to convert poor non-Christians by luring them with financial benefits? No wonder, Modi government has revoked FCRA licenses of several NGOs who were getting millions of dollars of foreign funds in the name of charity, but actually siphoned off for conversion activities in our country. And, let me tell you dear George, you would be one of the last generation of Hindus who have got converted to Christianity on the basis of financial enticement as the people involved in conversion activities are already facing difficulties due to the steps taken by Modi Govt to stop the flow of huge foreign funds to lure and convert innocent and poor Hindus”
My friend George murmured: “But they sponsored our education and my Dad could pay off all debts because of them”.
I sat straight, looked at him and said : “Let me share with you a page from the history. Much before the Kashmiri Hindus became refugees in their own country due to religious persecution, there was another group of Hindus who were persecuted in India on religious grounds. They were the Hindus from Goa. The Portuguese had invaded Goa about 500 years ago. Once they acquired supremacy of Goa, they started forcing the people to convert to Christianity. Those who were not willing to convert were beaten up and killed; and the temples were destroyed. They killed over 20000 people who resisted their conversion attempt. Of course, there were many who agreed to convert-for-benefits as you can see from the religious demographics of present-day Goa. The Goan Hindus who wanted to protect their faith were left with no choice but to flee from Goa, leaving all their establishment and properties behind; only carrying the Deities that they worshipped. They had to flee through the sea route on boats and small vessels. The Goan Konkani Hindus, escaping the monstrous clutches of killers and missionaries, thus reached the western shores of Karnataka and Kerala. The Konkani Hindus from Goa region thus became the first large group of refugees in our own motherland due to religious persecution”.
“Dear friend”, I continued…”I am a proud descendant of those Hindus from Goa, who left all comforts, property and everything behind at their birth place to preserve Hindu religion and culture, risked their lives by jumping into the ocean and who sailed to unknown shores overnight, carrying along with them nothing but the deities they worshipped. After reaching the coasts of Karnataka and Kerala, the Goan Hindus struggled for generations with utter poverty and hardships in the far-off land where even the language was different. But not even one person of this particular group or their descendants converted in all these centuries. Do you think the missionary people would have never met a poor Goan Konkani in Kerala or Karnataka in all these centuries? Do you think that a conversion agent would not have lured, say, my grand parents or parents who lived under utter poverty and hunger and offered them short cut to financial comfort ? Of course, these conversion agents had tried to lure, but could not succeed in getting them converted, in fact they could not lure even a single Goan Hindu (and their descendants like me) who took refuge in Kerala and Karnataka in all these centuries. Despite poverty, hunger and not able to afford formal education, none of the Goan Hindu “refugees” to Kerala and Karnataka went to the church to kneel down”.
After a pause, as if jolted by guilty consciousness, George told me : “…..In all my documents and ID cards I have given my name as Srihari only”.
I was quick to respond: “Oh that means you are a crypto Christian who won’t reveal your identity as Christian, ….may be because you want to continue getting some benefits of reservation system”.
George got defensive : “No no, I don’t belong to any lower caste; in fact, we were upper caste Hindus before we got converted”.
Me: “What is this lower caste-upper caste stuff that you are talking about among Hindus? That has become past now. Today, we Hindus do not care about castes as much as the Christians do. There are more castes in Christianity than Hinduism, like the Catholics, Protestants, Jacobites, Orthodox, Marthomites, CSI, CNI, Latin Catholics, Pentacosts, etc. The people belonging to one caste of Christianity does not even go to church of a different caste. Whereas we Hindus visit every temple across India, and we don’t have any caste-based temples the way you have a caste-based churches. However, while you have so many differences within; you remain as one vote bank for getting more and more benefits. Hindus must learn from you to remain as a vote bank”.
My friend had nothing to say. He smiled at me. I smiled back.