To be converted is the way to be transformed

Cenkantal
5 min readJan 15, 2023

Sr. Stella Baltazar

Growing into the fullness of Christ is Conversion from personal interests and selfish pursuits. It is the concept of changing from one set of ideas, beliefs or practices to another type. It means that a person has changed from one behaviour to another, in practices, beliefs, relationships, etc. Conversion of St. Paul or St. Augustine, Mahatma Gandhi or mother Theresa, holds the character of the ability to transcend oneself for a greater cause. It means a radical turn around causing a great personal revolution towards newness.

Today conversion is being misunderstood as an outrageous act of the missionaries who want to add more sheep into the Christian fold. It is a matter of great concern that accusations and outright condemnations are levied upon Christian missionaries without realizing the real change that happens in the person. What is forgotten is the golden opportunity for equality, participation, social upliftment, and the recognition of each person with dignity and self-worth irrespective of caste. This change has gradually been ensured to certain extent among those who have moved away from traditional caste affiliation to other religions such as Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, etc.

Atrocious crimes attributed to divine command which gives sanctions to carry out destruction and death in the name of religion is the most unacceptable reality. India known for its power of Ahimsa cannot harbour hatred. This is unacceptable specially in a country which, constitutionally professes to be the “Souverine, Socialist, secular, Democratic, Republic”. Since 2020, United States Commission on International Religious Freedom Freedom of Religion (USCIRF, May 6. 2022 Report) has recommended that India be designated a “Country of Particular Concern” ( CPC), due to the Indian government’s promotion of Hindu nationalism, and engagement and facilitation of systematic, ongoing, violations of religious freedom. The othering of those that are non-Hindu through the misuse of national and state-level legislation has turned India’s diverse and pluralistic society into more of a hostile state for many religious communities, particularly Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Adivasis, and Dalits.Today the growing climate of intolerance toward non-Hindus in India is becoming a stark reality.

One wonders at the immature and intolerant mode of Hindutva which is out right moving into fundamentalist overtones to the discredit of other religions. The political discourse of B. R. Ambedkar touched the nerve of the caste system which is beset with inequality, indecency and inhuman practices among the Indian people. When his followers renounced Hinduism as a political outcry of the caste atrocities and embraced Buddhism, the vulnerable communities found a space of freedom for their belief and practical life which assured self-respect and recognition of the other with dignity. They gained back what was taken away by the caste imposition.

Dr. Ambedkar opposed hypocrisy in the name of religion. To him religion was morality and it had to be reflected in the life of each individual in ones character, actions, reactions and in ones daily choices. He experienced the bitterness of caste atrocity and emerged as a critique, adapting a prophetic life, denouncing the evils of caste and announcing the beginning of a new era among the depressed masses. He renounced Hinduism and embraced Buddhism as a religious solution to the problems of the so called untouchables. He brought a great revolution in the life of the oppressed castes in India. His understanding of conversion had political, social and cultural sense of Equality, Dignity and Human Rights.

However, the paradox of conversion occurs when a group imposes its ideology, practices and sanction upon another and names them, ranks them and imposes restrictive measures which curtain the freedom, equality and humanity of the other. Such Fundamentalist overtones acts counter to the freedom and dignity of those named and segregated. The varnashrama imposes such sanctions and creates a segregated group of untouchables. Such affected people are taken unawares about their status to their own surprise.

But unfortuantely conversion has become a controversial topic today. Why is it so? It assumes differing meanings and nuances at different circumstances. Anti-conversion law is the death of secularism, equality and democracy. It pressurises and forces a person to accept false and mythical laws which degrades self-respect and dignity. It strips the person of the legitimate right given by the creator and imposes self-depreciation, unequal status, and low self-image for which there is no base. Such fabricated rules for self-glory.

It categorically removes the person’s freedom to take cognizance of one’s life. It is like imprisoning a person unaware and imposing sanctions in the name of God with pollution laws and affirming a position of superiority for oneself. This political clout claims God as the author of such inequality. It clamps the other as untouchable, impure, and naming them as outcast. The Dalits and Tribal communities in India are uncounted as equals and are rejected. Anti-conversion law is a result of a dominant discourse that forcefully imposes the degradation of vulnerable people.

Therefore, the claim to conversion becomes their birthright. They need a zone where they can count themselves as equal human persons with others and be affirmed by all as endowed with human dignity and equal rights. The theory of inequality and untouchability are man-made calamities. It denies the true worth of the person and takes away the gift of God given to every person as free and equal.

Christian church also needs constant conversion.

There is an old saying that the church remains always in the process of renewal (ecclesia semper reformanda). This applies to any institution which would die out, if it does not change. Trends of inequality are also found in Christianity where women, transgender and others, are ignored or regarded with gender-bias attitudes. Hardly any effort is made to integrate women as equal in assuming responsibility in decision mking process, as they are not considered as equally dignified persons. At Church rituals/sacraments women are seen as onlookers or as children. Here the church’s vulnerability stands out in the context of world-wide impact of sexual abuse crisis.

Now the wind is blowing in the direction of change. The call for synodality by Pope Francis is one such symptom. The Curial reform initiated by the Pope means overcoming its clericalism — covering up everything within the clerical circles. This is evident in the appointment of Sister Rafella Petrini as the new secretary General of the Vatican Governorate and another lay person Giuseppe Puglisi-Alibrandi as the Deputy Secreatary-General in November 2021. Earlier the Pope named Alessandra Smerilli as interim Secretary of the Discastry for promoting Intergral Human Development dealing with justice and peace issues.

In conclusion, let us grasp and embrace the depth of the Culture on Unity in diversity and respect the values embedded in each culture as a divine gift to humanity. Conversion means realizing the human condition. It needs to be nurtured in a positive perspective with deep respect and appreciation of the other as unique. Each one has the equal right as well as the obligation to respect and accept Diversity as the cause for Celebration.

(Sr. Stella Baltazar is Member of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary(FMM). She holds masters in Sociology and Theology. She has been involved with the youth as well as women, specially widows. She has written several papers on Feminist Theology and co-author of ‘Towards a New Dawn’, and ‘Animation for social change’. Worked with Divyodaya on Interfaith programmes, was staff with Caritas Switzerland as resource person/consultant for Indian projects in seven states of India. Member of Indian Theological Association and India Women Theologians Forum. Has presented papers at International Forums, Moderates General Chapters of Congregations. Presently Provincial of Ooty Province, India. )

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