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Religious conversion and cultural appropriation

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The conversion of Hindus to non-Indic monotheistic faiths is of grave concern to the Hindus. While the threat from the aggressively proselytizing faiths has been steadily rising; conversely, the dismissal of such a threat by the mainstream media and left liberals and government is also obvious. The fact is that wherever Hindus have been a minority in South Asia, they have been exterminated.

The alert among us recognizes the conversion efforts of Christian organizations for what they are—a war against the Hindus of India. One may genuinely have a change of heart and embrace another religion. However, the wholesale marketing and coercing of people of other faiths through financial bribes as well as psychological bullying and brainwashing to convert, can all be considered as severe aggression bordering on ethnic violence. 

Hindus, who are ignorant of the stated objective of the Catholic Church and other denominations of Christianity, think that the objective of bringing all people to Jesus is just a harmless idea and that it will not impact them. They are ignorant of what several Popes have repeatedly stated—that humanitarian work is for the purpose of conversion only and does not exist separately from this objective.

Hindus fail to realize that this ideology, this theological imperative, which motivates all missionary activity, is firmly targeting all Indian religions, especially Hinduism because Hinduism represents the last of the old world pagan religions and there are still a significant number of practicing Hindus left.

The Proselytising imperative

Proselytizing is the practice of converting people to a new faith, changing the people’s religious beliefs, and completely delinking them from their religious past. It involves individuals and communities who are converted to separate themselves from their historical, religious, and cultural identities and loyalties and re-identify themselves to a new faith, god, practice, and value systems. 

It seeks to separate the converted individual or community from their historic lineage and wipe out their previous religious identity including the destruction of religious places and religious iconography.   While the convert’s body is allowed to live, his previous religious identity is destroyed. Man is not just his physical body, but the sum total of his thoughts, ideas, and cultural and religious practices. Conversion is an attempt to eradicate the native identities of individuals and communities and is a dangerous disruptive force both within communities and within nations.

Conversion as a form of ethnic cleansing

Ethnic cleansing is broadly defined as removing a population from where they have inhabited for long periods of time, usually through the use of force and violence.

The UN charter on the rights of indigenous people affirms that

“… all peoples contribute to the diversity and richness of civilizations and cultures, which constitute the common heritage of humankind,  and… further that all doctrines, policies, and practices based on or advocating superiority of peoples or individuals on the basis of national origin or racial, religious, ethnic or cultural differences are racist, scientifically false, legally invalid, morally condemnable and socially unjust”.

Hindus and people of other Indic faiths are indigenous to India. They have continuously inhabited this land for the last five thousand years at the very least. Their religious practices and belief systems have for the most part existed in harmony with each other. The uniqueness of their religious heritage and the richness of their cultural practice are evident in Hindu philosophies and material and non-material culture.

All conversion efforts by missionaries originate from the false premise that native religions are inferior and that native populations need to be rescued by converting them to the “true” religion. Hindus have been targeted for conversion for a long time. However, it is at present we are witnessing increased aggression against Hindu beliefs, institutions, acharyas, and cultural practices. Hindus need to realize that removing Hindus from India, whether by force or by conversion, constitutes ethnic cleansing and they are the target.

Institutionalized bias against Hinduism

The freedom of religion clause in the Indian constitution allows for everyone to practice and profess and propagate his faith. This seems to be a fair law on the surface. Yet in practice, it privileges monotheistic faiths which have a tradition of proselytizing. The rights of Hindus to practice their religion, free from state interference and free from the interference of other religious groups are continuously being trampled on. The religious rights of Hindus to protect themselves and their cultural practices, from those who seek to destroy Hinduism by converting Hindus, have not been properly protected within any legal framework. 

Indic religions are not aggressively evangelical, because their core beliefs are based on the concept of ethical behavior as opposed to monotheistic religions, which emphasize belief in the right god. Hence, the need to convert or change other people’s belief systems was not paramount to Hindus. This allows for evangelizing religions to have the upper hand and greater constitutional power when it comes to targeting Hindus and people of Indic faiths for conversion –all this can be done under the guise of religious freedom.

The very act of seeking to convert another individual is an act of violence. It seeks to destroy the person’s faith in his own heritage. Unlike what left-liberals will have us believe, conversions in India don’t take place in innocuous settings where people of their own volition discover the beauty of another religion and seek out that experience by themselves. Conversions in India are wholly orchestrated by a network of Churches and missionaries with extensive foreign funding and vast local outreach.   

Inculturation and Cultural appropriation as a tool of conversion

Inculturation is a theological term used by the Church to refer to the process of making conversion acceptable to the group targeted for conversion by mimicking the cultural and religious practices of the target group. Inculturation is a tool that is used by various missionary organizations to create the illusion of sameness, which helps in reducing resistance to conversion. Part of the inculturation process involves mining the native cultures for practices and appropriating these in order to convert the native Hindus. This is called cultural appropriation.

One of the most unethical activities of the conversion agenda is the systematic dismantling of indigenous knowledge systems and the selective appropriation of parts of them to propagate the foreign faith.

The Hindu civilization has a rich tradition of religious practices which encompasses all aspects of life, including yoga, Ayurveda, classical music, dance, and all classical arts. The concept of art without religion was for the most part absent in Hindu practices, where the art form itself was a medium of worship. Hindu ideas and philosophies permeate its music and dance and visual arts. 

The appropriation of Hindu heritage starts with the Hindu scriptures themselves. It was reported in the Times of India (August 6, 2008) that the Indian Bible would have verses from the Upanishads, Vedas and Bhagavad Gita. The impunity with which non-Hindus appropriate ownership of Hindu texts aside, this process of incorporating the sacred literature of pagan cultures into the Bible while at the same time denigrating the beliefs of the pagans is appalling.

Those involved in the business of conversion recognize the importance of classical music, dance, and arts as well as other cultural practices such as mantra chanting and bhajans, to maintain the continuity of Hindu religious heritage. 

So it is not surprising that these have come under attack repeatedly, where the conversion promoters along with a small group of artists, have tried to secularize all Hindu practices, whether it is mantra chanting or Classical music and dance.

This is most obvious in Tamil Nadu, where every single Hindu practice is copied while removing all traces of the original gods. Here we have the traditional chants such as the Aigiri Nandini sloka and the Kanda Sashti Kavacha slokas now rendered for Jesus. The Kalai Kaveri College of Fine arts is engaged in Christianizing Bharata Natyam. 

Carnatic Music is also the target where the lyrics of great composers are reworked to sing praises of Jesus. The goal of evangelizing Carnatic music is one such example of cultural and intellectual property theft indulged in by various Christian organizations and supported by some of the senior Carnatic Vocalists who are engaged in the mission to secularize Hindu arts. 

The secular argument is that art is universal and that it is the content of the art which is religious and not the forms, i.e. the lyrics are religious and not the ragas, which are secular. Likewise, mantra chanting methods are secular; only the words are Hindu, and these can be replaced with mantras to a new god.

This is a fundamentally flawed argument that seeks to divorce form from content and appropriate the forms of Hindu culture for non-Hindu purposes. From the Hindu perspective, both form and content are religious. The mantras are sacred sounds and the meter they are composed and chanted in are also sacred. Likewise, ragas are considered the embodiment of Nada Brahman, the transcendental sound. Both ragas and lyrics of the composers are the collective cultural and intellectual property of the Hindus.

Using any classical raga to sing on gods, not within the Hindu tradition, especially to gods of inimical religions is correctly viewed by Hindus as an insult to their religious heritage and a theft of their collective wealth. Just as an 11th-century temple statue stolen causes anguish, so too does the theft of ragas and songs.

The second argument is that since there have been older composers like Abraham Pandita  who used Carnatic Music for Christian songs, it should be acceptable for current composers to do the same.  This is a specious argument.  It is akin to saying that since there was theft in the past which Hindus didn’t protest, therefore Hindus relinquish the right to do so now. 

The worst part of such cultural appropriation is that it reveals that both the proselytizer and the “secular” people who support these activities have no respect for pluralism and even less respect for the sentiments or the ownership rights of Hindus over their cultural and religious heritage.

Any Hindu protest of such cultural appropriation is vilely and dishonestly dismissed as bigotry and narrow-mindedness. The fundamental rights of Hindus to own their religious heritage and decide whether they want to share this heritage with others are being violated by this appropriation.

All activities which seek to remove Hindus and Hinduism from the land of their origin should evoke alarm both in intellectuals and the government. Depopulating India of its Hindus through religious conversion is an ethnic cleansing that is happening in front of our eyes. 

The fundamental truth is that a conversion agenda is completely incompatible with a secular plural state for the simple reason that the act of proselytizing is the complete repudiation of pluralism which requires mutual respect for all religions and respect for diversity. Hinduism, with its multiple paths and gods, is plural in nature. 

Monotheistic religions do not respect or acknowledge the plurality of paths or gods. Since the very basis of monotheistic faiths is the rejection of multiple gods and beliefs, they pose an inherent danger to Hindu society and Hindus, who, if they want to survive, need to acknowledge this and take legal steps to protect themselves.

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