Sai had earlier participated in a study HASC conducted on Bhutanese refugees. Sai aptly describes the concerns of many in the community. "Predatory conversion*" is an important issue that many Hindus and Hindu organizations have worked and are working to address. As Sai indicated, it is important to bring these issues and its impact more to the forefront while respecting all faith. Interfaith dialogues and collaboration can increase understanding and lead to peaceful resolutions. Best. Anju
State of Formation Emcee's
*Religious Conversion: A Form of Violence*
*By Sai Kolluru
*[image: Sai Kolluru]Posted on February 15th, 2012
[image: Tibet: Pure Devotion by Sylvain Labeste]
*To the Divine and Respected,*
*Disclaimer: This article does not blame any religion. It simply brings up
the issue of Religious conversion and encourages one to look into the
issue. Also, when I say conversion I am talking about forced and
involuntary conversion as well as proselytizing. A humble request: the
point of this article is not to argue or point fingers at any religion but
act upon the issue peacefully through dialogue and similar means. Reminds
us all why interfaith dialogue is extremely important in today's world.
As I was en route to visit the Bhutanese refugees I tutor one Sunday
morning, I received a phone call from one of my Bhutanese brothers telling
me that two Bhutanese have committed suicide.
Unable to understand what he was saying, I told him we will discuss the
incident upon my arrival at his apartment in West Park, Cleveland. I sat
down with him and he told me the story.
Two Bhutanese refugees who have escaped religious persecution and ethnic
cleansing in their own country and were finally granted asylum in the
United States passed away a few days ago. I asked him what happened and he
told me that they were unknowingly converted to Christianity. The Bhutanese
refugees came to the United States hoping to find a land that will embrace
them, protect them, and allow them to be pursue their dreams. However,
trying really hard to "fit in" to the culture of the United States, the
Bhutanese found themselves in a tough situation. They wanted to get married
but did not know how.
They met a Pastor that guided them to a Church where they could get
married, even though the Pastor knew they were Hindu. The Bhutanese thought
it was part of the American culture to get married in the Church. The
Pastor told the Bhutanese that they need to be Baptized in order to get
married, to which again the Bhutanese thought it was part of the American
culture. The Bhutanese just wanted to be accepted in the community and get
married but did not know that they were being converted to Christianity.
Upon realizing this after a conversation with their own Bhutanese
community, the Bhutanese felt ashamed and betrayed. The result was suicide.
Unfortunately, their experience
<http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VdrS38nQGcg>is not uncommon; other
refugees have faced similar
horrors. Similar cases have sprung up across the United States within
the Bhutanese community where the newcomers have been targets of
conversion. During my train ride back to the university campus that Sunday
afternoon, I was very disappointed about what happened and felt the need to
increase my efforts helping the Bhutanese community assimilate into the
Western society. Particularly on the point of making them understand it is
okay to be a Hindu and proudly represent themselves as Hindus, after all,
the United States is a nation of Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and
Having an opportunity to write in *State of Formation*, I had to write
about Religious Conversion. As a Hindu, I have never been brought up with
the idea of conversion or was made to think that my religious tradition was
the most superior and the only path to salvation.
Hinduism does not see the point of conversion, if it did we would be trying
to use the words of Lord Krishna in *Bhagavad Gita* and try to convert the
entire world but we do not, why don't we? A Christian missionary in Germany
once asked, "Why did Hindus never set out of Indian soil to propagate their
religion? It is just because they knew it was of no worth."
To this statement, Max Muller, a German Philologist and Orientalist,
immediately replied saying, "For Hindus, Religion is like a mother. She is
the most beautiful of all. *Bhagavad Gita* says, 'if you try to prove you
are worthy by propagating the beauty of your mother, then the outside world
will see her as a prostitute. Hence propagate the value of your mother by
the deeds you do called Karma. The value of the mother is known by the
deeds done by the child. If your Karma is good, then automatically your
mother will be the most respected.'"
Hinduism is a form of Universalism, many of the concepts in Hinduism are
universal and thus are very accepting. We see the Universe in ourselves and
ourselves in the Universe , such is the cosmic manifestation of the
Divine. When there is Divinity within everyone then what is the point of
trying to convince someone that their spiritual path is wrong? "Ekam Sat
Vipraha Bahuda Vadanti,": Truth is one and the Sages speak of it in many
ways, says the *Rig Veda*.
In my effort to explain this concept to the world, I came across the below
excerpt from an interview of a very Revered Spiritual teacher of the
Advaita Vedanta-Shankara tradition who speaks the voice of Hinduism on
Religious Conversion. Below Swamiji puts very simply why Religious
Conversion is a form of violence. He also talks about the US view of
India's Religious Freedom. He advises us Americans and future ethical
leaders of tomorrow to really consider if we ourselves are abusing
'religious freedom' to advance our own tradition by forcing others to
convert. The question I have for this *State of Formation* is that as a
community that truly believes in freedom of religion, should we push
Congress to consider legislation that focuses on restricting religious
conversion? Perhaps, these might be the first steps for a nation like
America to truly represent the importance that lies behind freedom of
religion and interfaith dialogue. In this effort, we can too do our part to
live and let live.
*The following is an edited excerpt from an interview of Swami Dayananda
Saraswati by *
*T. R. Jawahar of Newstoday, Chennai, June 30, 2003 available at **
*Why do you say conversion is a form of violence?*
When you physically hurt me, it is violence. If you hurt me emotionally, it
is violence. And if you hurt me spiritually, that is the worst violence,
rank violence. When you convert somebody, you have to criticize the
person's religion, his worship, his culture. All these hurt. When he
converts, there is more hurt. He has to disown his parents, their wisdom
and their culture, his ancestors and entire community. You isolate, uproot
and emotionally unsettle him.
*How can we deal with this problem?*
The theologians have to change, but they will not, because of their
indoctrination. But we should keep talking about it with them. They are
waiting for a time when there is more freedom for them to do their
conversion work. So let that conducive time for them to seek converts be
kept away. Our people have to be made aware and proud of our religion. They
should be able to say to the missionaries, "Enough is enough."
Any protest against religious conversion is always branded as persecution,
because it is maintained that people are not allowed to practice their
religion, that their religious freedom is curbed. The truth is entirely
different. The other person also has the freedom to practice his or her
religion without interference. That is his/her birthright. Religious
freedom does not extend to having a planned program of conversion. Such a
program is to be construed as aggression against the religious freedom of
*But the naive fall for the lure of money and incentives.*
It is not really the money that buys the conversion. The missionaries give
small things, and tempt with larger. That makes a thumb space, a small
opening, to enter the heart. Then the missionary says the fellow's daily *
puja* is wrong, his altar of prayer is not right, and he has to change it.
That is the unkindest cut you can get. It is a stab in the heart, his
religious core, where this fellow has innocently allowed the missionary to
enter. Missionaries do seemingly good things in order to commit this
violence. After the conversion, he is told that his brethren and
forefathers are devil worshipers!
*Will the Hindu clergy allow them to reconvert?*
Here in India all are Hindus until they call themselves something
different. When I allow every form of worship, then where is the problem?
We deem you another Hindu, only you are saying, "I am this or that." There
is no reconversion. There is a prodigality and they come back like a
prodigal son. We do not even need to baptize. We have to ask him to give up
beef, that is all.
*What is the US view of India's religious freedom?*
The US government had appointed a Commission on International Religious
Freedom. This Commission is an authentic body and funded by the government.
The Commission gets information from all countries and then submits a
periodical report to the government. Based on its report, the government of
US may apply pressure on those countries where, according to the
Commission, there is lack of religious freedom. You'll be surprised the
Commission recommended India to be designated a Country of Particular
Concern [a designation given to Iran, North Korea, Burma and several other
totalitarian states the US State Department rejected their recommendation
to so designate India].
They cited the anti-conversion bills of Tamil Nadu and Gujarat and some
Gujarat incidents as the basis of their action. They say there is no
religious freedom in India. This is according to their own matrix of norms
on the basis of which they decide "religious freedom." I question this
The Commission's criterion appears to be that if evangelization for
conversions is allowed, then there is religious freedom. That means if
missionaries are free enough to aggressively destroy my indigenous
religious tradition, and if I don't question it, then there is religious
freedom. If I stand up to that aggression, then it is considered an
infringement upon human rights and religious freedom. Therefore, I am
appealing to the government of India to appoint our own Commission on
Religious Freedom, and let them report on where there is religious freedom
and where there is not.
*But what about the good charity work of the missionaries?*
Missionaries are using charity with the aim of conversion. They should do
humanitarian work the same way Hindus do. We have charities all over the
world. Look at Salem or Coimbatore. How many hospitals are there? Almost
all of them are run by Hindu charities. And what do they do? They don't
convert, they just run the charities. There is no priest or nun there
because there is no conversion program. The charities remain charities.
But to run charities for another purpose is the most uncharitable thing to
do. Let me make a comparison. Have you seen how those who supply cows to
slaughterhouses treat those cows a week before the slaughter? They feed the
cows a lot and don't allow them to move around in a bid to increase their
weight. It is called "pounding." You could say, "Ah, love and feeding! How
humanitarian these people are, so human, etc." But those fellows have an
eye on another goal. This is how I see all the missionaries' work it is
like the love of the slaughterhouse people. Missionaries slaughter
religions, slaughter traditions, slaughter cultures. Yes, they do
humanitarian work, but slaughterhouse love it is.
If you really love people, just give charitably and forget about it. Don't
talk about your religion. Keep your sacred religion in your heart. I find
it is not a happy thing to talk about, the vulgarity of it. Even to talk
about it is rather staining my tongue and leaves a distaste.
*Swami Dayananda**, a sannyasi of the Adi Shankara and Veda Vyasa
tradition, founder of Arsha Vidya centers in India, USA, Canada and
Australia, has taught worldwide for over 45 years.*
Featured image, TIbet: Pure Devotion, is courtesy of