December 12, 2014, 3:55 PM IST Mrutyuanjai Mishra
When the famous Pakistani cricket player-turned-playboy Imran Khan married Jemima Goldsmith in 1995, she converted to Islam. She was brought up as a Jew. She was just one example. In the first decade of the 21st century, more than one lakh people converted to Islam in Great Britain alone. Add to this the figures of other European countries, and you will get an idea of how conversions are becoming very normal, especially among non-Muslims.
But let me ask the difficult question that most people dare not ask in India. How many Muslims from Muslim countries are converting from Islam to another faith? And even those who dare convert are forced to keep it to themselves or escape the country in order to avoid persecution and penalty. In many cases, citizens are awarded some of the harshest punishment for what is considered a human right in most non-Muslim countries of the world.
The problem in India is not that a few dozen Muslims have decided to convert to Hinduism, but the fact that, historically, we have told sweet lies to ourselves and pacified ourselves in order to forget the traumatizing experience of the first Islamic colonization and later the British colonization. Millions of Hindus have been forcibly converted, and the British have forced Indians to sit in third-class compartments while they themselves travelled first class. Winston Churchill thought that we Indians did not deserve to get the life-saving grain, even though he had the powers to redirect the supply to India. It caused the death of millions in the ensuing famine. We have forgotten all that. But they are still facts of India’s historical life.
When Salman Rushdie was in Denmark a few years ago, he was interviewed by a leftist writer, Carsten Jensen. To one of the questions asked about India, Rushdie told a beautiful story of modern-day India. He said that he had researched very well the life of the Mughal Emperor Akbar, and his conclusion was that the Indians have told fairy tales and made Bollywood films like Mughal-e-Azam about the life of Akbar. It is not true that Akbar’s wife remained a Hindu or Rajput. No, she converted and that can be proved, but Indians still want to believe that at least one Mughal emperor was wise, secular and interested in promoting the rights of all religious minorities.
No matter how much deeper we poke the ostrich’s nose into the sand, we cannot always avert the desert storm. So it is with some historical facts. We can tell some sweet lies that the Indian history is full of periods when all kinds of kings ruled softly and their subjects enjoyed most of the freedoms that we know of in the modern world. But it is a simple lie. Just as it is a lie that ostriches bury their heads in the sand. We have been told that and we keep telling that to others without thinking of how that poor bird would breathe.
What we should not do, of course, is blame the present-day Muslims for the evils of the past. Nor should we blame the present-day Hindus for the bad arithmetic of the caste system. A few Muslims converting to another faith is no big deal, especially when most of the Muslims of Southeast Asia are simply all converts. It is funny how they still use words like “Bhumiputra”, a Sanskrit word, to justify their demands for more rights in Malaysia.
By confronting the past, we should start making efforts to reconcile our history. The chance we are given at the present historical moment is to make the miracle of secular India work. An India where all are free to convert, marry and divorce. An India where the freedom of religion and conscience is a fundamental pillar whose existence is accepted by all.
But for Hanuman’s sake stop telling lies. Modern-day secularism is an unprecedented moment in our history. Let us cherish it. And let us be thankful that we do not have to live by the brutal standards of the previous centuries.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.