Julio Ribeiro: Preparing for ‘Ghar Wapsi’
As Christmas Day approaches, I am readying myself for ‘Ghar Wapsi’. Normally it would be celebration time, but there has been a dramatic shift in interest and emphasis, what with the mass re-conversions planned on that day at Aligarh and the observance of Good Governance Day in schools across the country!
A BJP vice president (for the state of Maharashtra) stays in my building and I meet him quite often in the elevator or in the building compound during my morning walk. When I told him that I was ready for ‘Ghar Wapsi’ he was visibly excited. I asked him what caste I would be assigned to on reconversion, but he said he would have to find out. After a brief pause he wanted to know the caste to which my Hindu ancestors belonged. I mentioned that they were Saraswats, so he opined that I would revert to that caste. In reply, I asked him how he could be so sure since my forebears had eaten all sorts of prohibited meat. That stumped him and he reverted to his stance of the need to consult someone about the same.
It is a historical fact that Hindus of different castes were converted by Portuguese missionaries 400 to 500 years ago at a time when faith dominated political discourse. Some sort of coercion must necessarily have been used. The Ottoman Turks had done the same in the Balkans despite resistance from the Austro Hungarians and Czarist Russia. The detritus of those conversions still linger in the surcharged atmosphere of embattled Bosnia and neighbouring Kosovo.
Religion has always been used as a tool by State players from the dawn of history. It has led to numerous religious wars, the most prominent of which were the Crusades which pitted the Muslims against the Christians in Jerusalem and the Middle East. Everyone forgets that religions did not exist when man first appeared on Earth. Different theories were put forth by different people in different corners of the world to explain the mystery of life and death, of the wonders of nature and events that could not be explained by human intellect. Different theories were soon turned into beliefs and ultimately into religions. Fortunately, all religions speak of the necessity of being just and good and condemn that which militates against peace and order in society.
Five centuries ago, in the Age of Faith, Christian missionaries just like Arab traders and Ottoman soldiers went around the world propagating a one true religion. That epoch has long gone but diehards abound and they in turn have given birth to extremists in more moderate religions like Hinduism. Mass conversions disturb social order and need to be discouraged. Individuals seeking spiritual solace in another religion different from the one in which they were born is common all over the world. In Portugal I came across descendents of those who converted my forefathers who had now adopted Krishna as their preferred god!
There can be no justification for killing innocent people in the name of God and no plausible reasons for hating individuals who hold beliefs about God that are different from theirs. Unfortunately, we are now confronted with ‘Ghar Wapsi’ which is just an excuse for divisive politics and is not going to help the country to advance. I have no quarrel with the concept of Hindutva or cultural nationalism as the RSS describes it. As I have said earlier, I admit that my ancestors were Hindus and incidentally I have never failed to proclaim it. Probably, because my forefathers belonged to the higher varna of Hindu society as compared to many other compatriots who had been liberated from an inferior status ascribed to them in the Hindu social order.
Here’s a historical tidbit which most Goan Christians, including priests, do not know will be of interest to them as well as to our Hindu brothers in Goa. The first Goan Catholic Priest to be ordained Bishop (of Bijapur) was Mateus de Castro of Chorao in Diwad. He insisted on being ordained as Mateus de Castro Mahale because that was the Hindu surname of his family prior to conversion. The Priest who baptized his forefathers was a Castro and like all Goans (even East Indians from Mumbai and Vasai) converted en masse they were given the surname of the priest who baptized them. Portuguese surnames are to be found all along the coast of India and even Sri Lankan test cricketers Mendis, Pereira, Vas and De Silva are Sinhalese whose ancestors were converted by the Portuguese. I have also come across a Ribeiro in Quilon in Kerala who spoke only Malayalam.
So, as I await December 25, the day ear-marked for ‘Ghar Wapsi’, I am trying to figure out what my old Hindu surname was. I will have to go to Goa, to my taluka of Bardez, to my village of Socorro and diligently dig out old Church records. But the Sangh Parivar is giving me very little time to do that. They are obviously in a mighty hurry to reconvert 23 million Indians so that they become first-class citizens like them! But will they really be accepted after reconversion? That is certainly difficult to predict.
(The author is former commissioner of police, Mumbai and ex-DGP, Punjab)