For the first time in my 47 years of life, I have decided to confess. I was born to a traditional agrarian Jain family in the Malnad region of Karnataka. When I was born my religion was Jainism. According to the Indian Constitution I belong to a minority community, like the Muslims or the Christians in this country. You have every right to ask me why I am confessing now, after so long.
I grew up with my Hindu, Muslim and Christian friends and no one thought it was necessary to know my religion. We ate, played and studied together. Though I am a pure vegetarian, I used to eat at the homes of my non-vegetarian Hindu, Muslim and Christian friends during my childhood. All our mothers and sisters used to serve me only the vegetarian stuff and that too with true love. Don't think that I was born and brought up in a cosmopolitan city like Delhi or Mumbai. I wasn't. I lived in a tiny village called Naguru in Karnataka's South Canara district where there was great harmony and understanding between different religions and sects in the 1970s. Even now, my native place is calm, like many other villages in India.
When I was around 12 years old, my parents took me to a nearby Jain basadi (temple) to get me the holy diksha (ordination). At that moment, a sacred thread was bestowed upon me. Within two days of diksha, that sacred thread disappeared. And after almost a year I stopped eating food after sunset, like a true Jain. Drinking only water after the sunset had made a positive impact on my health and mind, but due to many reasons I eventually discontinued that practice. At one particular moment during my teenage years, I thought all gods were different manifestations of one god and started going to temples and basadis. I also went to churches and mosques and prayed there. But gradually, as I entered adulthood, I stopped going to any place of worship. When I got married at 27, once again two more sacred threads, including the one that represented my responsibility towards my wife, were tied to me. They disappeared on the same night. With that, I thought, I had relinquished my Jain identity.
But what made me confess at this moment is the roar of the 'Ghar Wapsi' programme by right-wing Hindu organisations across India. They have almost reached my doorstep, my village in coastal Karnataka!
First of all, everyone has to understand how and why conversions happen. If we take the example of India, over thousands of years some Hindus converted to Islam, Christianity, Jainism and Buddhism. In most cases, those Hindus, who were marginalised and left with a feeling that they were not treated well in their own religion, decided to embrace other religions that promised them a dignified life and identity. Yes, in almost all cases, good education, social status and opportunities were used as 'incentives' for conversion. One more important thing is, all along the course of life, some sort of conversion happens in everyone's mind and heart which nobody can control or manipulate. For example in my case, if anyone traces the roots of my ancestry, I may well turn out to be a Hindu by origin. Many decades ago, my great grandparents believed in Jainism and practiced it. Several members of our now-broken joint family still practice Jainism. They don't eat after sunset. They don't consume non-vegetarian food and don't drink alcohol. They regularly go to basadis and pray. I, however, accidentally ate a hamburger once and when I visited England I drank wine in many official lunches and dinners. Though I didn't pick up the habit of eating non-veg and drinking alcohol, I am not a Jain now. According to Jainism, I am a traitor as I have flouted many of the customs associated with the faith and hence I don't belong to that religion. I would have gone to temples, churches and masjids to pray, but I am not a Hindu or a Christian or a Muslim. I just believe in humanity and I am trying to become more humane as the day passes.
My sincere request to those people behind this meaningless reconversion drive is this: first and foremost, do some introspection and check if you have remained true Hindus in your actions, in your mind and heart. Please tell me to which home I have to return--Hinduism, Jainism, Islam, Christianity or Humanity? Please give me the answer before trying to reconvert the next batch.
The truth is that, irrespective of whether or not you indulge in this gimmick called 'Ghar Wapsi' and vote bank politics, Hinduism will never die. Even after repeated invasions and forceful conversions over the last thousands of years, Hinduism has remained as strong as it was. This is not a religion that you think and practice. Hinduism is a belief, truth and the sacred lap that allows all other religions, beliefs, traditions and cultures to blossom upon it. It is only because of this that the whole of India still celebrates Ganesh Chaturthi, Holi and Diwali as one family.