Hindu Vivek Kendra

23. Annexure 3

Why does the Evangelical Church secretly sponsor a mass conversion of "untouchable" Hindus to Buddhism?

They came from all parts of India, from Bihar, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Kerala and Tamil Nadu to participate in a gigantic mass ceremony in New Delhi, which should change their lives. Thousands of men, women and children from the bottom of the Hindu caste hierarchy have joined Buddhism. The ancient Brahmins called these people too low to have any caste, the British called them "Untouchables", Gandhi called them Harijans, and today they call themselves the Dalits, which means: the oppressed. Leaving Hinduism and joining Buddhism was an act of liberation from the age-old unjust and inhuman social order, which is still spelling discrimination, oppression and atrocities for many born into stigmatized families.

This mass exodus from Hinduism followed a historic example. In a similar ceremony, in October 1956, half a million Dalits became Buddhists. Their leader was Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, the father of the Indian constitution, who was the first "untouchable" to get a high school degree, a Bachelor of Arts degree, a doctorate and a law degree and became the revered patron of the Dalit movement. Since Hinduism was founded on scriptures that sanctioned the caste-based social order, Ambedkar asked his people to seek social justice and dignity outside this religion. Missing the historic chance to consequently promote atheism, he called for joining Buddhism, which he found to be the most peaceful among the established religions.

Thirty per cent of the Indian Hindus (that is nearly one fourth of the total one billion population of the country) are Dalits. One of them is K R Narayanan, the Indian President, which shows that things are changing. The Indian constitution bans untouchability and guards a legal system guaranteeing equality. There are special laws regulating the reservation of proportionate quota in education, government jobs and positions for Dalits. Social life, especially in the cities, has undergone a tremendous transformation since Ambedkar's times. But the old order does not go easily. Recently a young couple in a village in Uttar Pradesh was publicly hanged by their parents in front of the village elders for breaking the caste-norms with their secret marriage. This was only the latest of a series of brutal reminders that the dark ages are still lurking behind the accomplishments of fifty-one years of democracy and social progress in India.

The Delhi ceremony was a perfect replica of its predecessor. Thousands echoed the Buddhist priest's traditional chants in Pali, a dead language. After their leader was tonsured on behalf of all of them, they repeated the 22 basic vows as formulated by Ambedkar, denouncing all Hindu gods and rituals and the belief in reincarnation. And raising their hands in agreement they became Buddhists. Everything was exactly the same as 46 years before - but still there was a major difference.

Official organizer of the Delhi meeting was the "All India Conference of Scheduled Castes and Tribes", an umbrella organization of government employees with a membership of more than three millions. Secret wire puller and financier of the event, however, was the All India Christian Council (AICC), an outfit of the Evangelical Church, which comprises of all kinds of neo-protestant "born-again" and missionary organizations and is dominated by Baptists and Pentacostals. Special guests on the dias were AICC president Dr. Joseph D'Souza, vice-president John Dayal and general secretary Dr. K P Yohannan. Dayal, a retired journalist, is the key figure of the recent PR-campaigns, projecting harassment of Christians in India, which are securing substantial support from Christians in the USA. Yohannan is the dynamic top conversion driver of the Pentacostals in their hotbed Kerala and known for his enormous capacities to mobilize Dollar donations.

Why does the Evangelical network sponsor a mass conversion of Hindus to Buddhism?

A PR-campaign, launched in June for supporters and donators in the USA and elsewhere, opened hearts and purses by giving the wrong impression that a big catch was heading straightly for the Christian net. "Gospel for Asia", the "largest church-planting movement in the subcontinent", started focussing on the plight of the Dalits and their plan to leave Hinduism. "… The news from around India is that Dalits also plan to move to the Christian faith. The Indian church is therefore presented with a challenge of enormous proportions. It will either stand or fall by the stand it takes during the coming months", informed AICC-president D'Souza. He added carefully: "The Church will also have to support the larger move of the Dalits because it represents freedom of choice, … and now will have to respect and support whatever choices the Dalits make…."

This was the time when a movement for Dalit Human Rights started to get international attention in connection with the Durban World Conference Against Racism. The Evangelical Church sailed with the wind and sponsored - under the shroud of secrecy - the participation of 300 Dalits in the Durban conference, the biggest, best-coordinated and most vocal group. There was, of course, a strategy behind the generous support. The Durban conference, was the calculation, would cause great embarrassment to the Indian government. Already blamed for Hindu fanatic leanings, they would be held responsible for Human Rights violations against the Dalits, and under scrutiny by a sensibilized international public, they would have to carefully avoid any future offence against them. The Dalits would - in a new sense - become truly "untouchable". So beneficial this outcome may be, it was not for the Dalits' sake that their cause was supported. They were only build up to become proper carthorses for vested interests.

On 7 September, immediately after the Durban conference, a meeting took place in Hyderabad. 740 Evangelical leaders and 26 Dalit leaders discussed the further procedure and fixed the date for the first one million conversions. The AICC leaders started to "mobilize the Church body to respond to this most urgent challenge". Excited newsletters started rejoicing through cyberspace announcing a miracle: 300 millions of Hindus have expressed the heart's desire to join Christianity! Can you help them? - Money flew generously. But while advertising the big catch, the AICC leaders knew and appreciated very well that the Dalits would convert to Buddhism only. Their targets were not the converts of Delhi, though they used them to water their donators' mouths. Their plan was to use the Buddhist conversions as a wedge to open the gates of India for the great millennium crusade. This plan could only succeed under the condition that the missionary finger in the pie remained unseen in India.

The Anti-Conversion-Bill, established in the early fifties, long before the now ruling Hindu party came to power, bans proselytizing by force or by promise of advantage. Change of religion is only allowed as considered individual decision. The old missionary practice of mass conversions, threatening uneducated poor people or luring them with little gifts and promises in order to baptize them village by village and tribe by tribe, is punishable. Major parts of India's North East have been conquered this way. And missionaries still try to advance into the tribal areas using the rough conversion method of St. Francis Xavier, who managed to obtain permission of the local King to baptize in seven days as many of the poor fishermen as he could. His proselytes were thousands. He called them together by ringing bells, wetted them with huge water sprayers and declared them Christians without wasting further words.

Throughout history, many attempts have been made by Christian missionaries to use the situation of the "untouchables" to harvest souls. But once they were baptized, they had to experience that equality and justice did not come nearer: as Christians they remained as "untouchable" as they had been as Hindus. Especially the priesthood hierarchies of the established orthodox, catholic, protestant and anglican churches kept themselves strictly Dalit-free. There is no single priest - let alone bishop or cardinal - down history, who was born an "untouchable". There is, despite all crocodile-tears for the oppressed, still no quota for Dalit Christians in the thousands of institutions, schools and hospitals owned by the Christian churches.

While the Indian government as well as the general public are alert against Christian conversion attempts, the change from Hindu religion to Buddhism is not taken as conversion and does therefore not fall under the Anti-Conversion-Bill, since Buddhism is understood to be a branch of Hinduism. Hinduism knows about 330 millions of gods and goddesses, and Buddha is one of them. While being freed from the caste system, the Dalits-turned-Buddhists don't loose their right on the provisions of the reservation bill, while Dalits-turned-Christians do - good reasons to follow Ambedkar's example rather than turning to Christianity.

But once, under the shield of its historic predecessor and under protection of the watchful international public, Dalit mass conversions to Buddhism have successfully taken place, an example is set. When thousands of Hindus are allowed to become Buddhists one fine afternoon, just by echoing some chants and raising their hands, no moral or legal right could prevent St. Francis Xavier's resurrection!

"God longs for the whole Hindu people to know Jesus Christ and live under His Lordship", revealed the Consultation of World Evangelization in their meeting in Thailand in 1980. The "Thailand Report on Hindus" delivered appropriate missionary know how for the harvest. The Hindu belief system was introduced with special attention to those of its elements, which could be used in the conversion process. "Miraculous healing", for example was recommended as successful technique. "Demonstrating social concern, for example for scheduled castes and tribes or other `untouchables' of the Hindu community (lepers, prostitutes etc.) was another proposed technique.

"The oppressed and the poor have always been receptive for the Gospel down the centuries in India and elsewhere… The poor have a natural capacity to put their trust on almost anything. They are not dogmatic. This has always been the 'entry point' in the structure on any society, through which we can easily enter."

It was warned, however, to avoid "premature reaping": "If, as frequently occurs, the first converts are those who are socially isolated for one reason or another reason from the community, premature reaping may create serious barriers to the establishment of the Body of Christ in that area. We must exercise patience as we sow the seed, create a hunger, and work for the conversion of the opinion leaders of the community…"

Despite great efforts and considerable collections abroad, the "Gospel for Asia" brigade was generally not very successful in India. The "Joshua-2000-Project", which announced a kind of missionary world conquest before the dawn of the new millennium and gathered great holy excitement and still greater donations, did not come up to the expectations. The current grand Dalit-project may have a similar fate. But donators seem to be a confused lot with short memories. Religious action provides entertainment and excitement for its armchair supporters and the satisfactory feeling of contributing considerably to the improvement of the world. Who would want to seriously understand the conditions of real life as long as the show goes on! This approach is unfortunately not limited to the customers of the Evangelical Church.

This gives at last some hopes for the Dalits. They may finally get rid of their new piggy-back riders, provided their own leadership is not too corrupt. Their weak and unprotected situation has made them ideal victims for all kinds of deals of politicians and missionaries throughout history. They all tried to save them from one thing only: from becoming Equals and stopping to be the Oppressed.

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Honorary Associates: Dr. Pieter Admiraal (The Netherlands), Prof. Mike Archer (Australia), Katsuaki Asai (Japan), Sir Hermann Bondi (UK), Prof. Colin Blakemore (UK), Prof. Vern Bullough (USA), Dr Bill Cooke (New Zealand), Dr. Helena Cronin (UK), Prof. Richard Dawkins (UK), Joseph Edamaruku (India), Prof. Antony Flew (UK), Jim Herrick (UK), Christopher Hitchens (USA), Ellen Johnson (USA), Prof. Paul Kurtz (USA), Lavanam (India), Dr. Richard Leakey (Kenya), Iain Middleton (New Zealand), Dr. Henry Morgentaler (Canada), Dr. Taslima Nasreen (Bangladesh), Steinar Nilsen (Norway), Prof. Jean-Claude Pecker (France), James Randi (USA), Dr G N Jyoti Shankar (deceased, USA), Barbara Smoker (UK), Prof. Harry Stopes-Roe (UK), Prof. Rob Tielman (The Netherlands), David Tribe (Australia), Barry Williams (Australia) and Prof. Lewis Wolpert (UK).

Sanal Edamaruku, President of Rationalist International, can be contacted at Edamaruku@rationalistinternational.net