Friday, June 02, 2006

Hindus, Muslims converting to Baha'i faith in India: The Game of Conversions, Changing Religions

Apart from Lotus temple in Delhi: What else do you know about Bahais?
The lady's surname was Patel but she was not a Hindu. She was a Bahai, member of a faith, who believe in Baha'ullah

There were Mishra, Patil and Ghosh. All of them were Bahais. People with seeming Muslim names also.

That was quite confusing initially because of our notions that we associate surnames to religion.

They were born in Hindu, Muslim families but recently turned to Bahaism.

As far as Indians are concerned, what we know about the Bahais is that their most prominent place of worship in this country is the Lotus Temple in Delhi. But apart from this, most of us generally have no clue about Bahais and their religion.

That the Bahais, wherever they live, have a feast every 19 days and that they assemble at the local Haziratul Quds, is also not known commonly. In every city they have a local spiritual assembly. But when you see a Siddiqui or a Sharma as Bahai, what you make out of it?

Hindu, Muslim converts to Bahai religion

That confuses many of us. Because in India, we  associate names and surnames with religions. If someone is Rahmat Ali, he ought to be a Muslim and Ramesh Joshi should be a Hindu. Some Christians have Hindi/ Sanskrit/ Arabic names but most of the people can be identified.

Even Jains are often distinguishable due to their surnames--either Jain or Khandelwal/Shah/Kasliwal/Singhai etc. I find many Hindu and Muslim converts to Bahai faith. The Bahais are under intense religious persecution in Iran. 

This is a fact. They are not allowed to run schools and kept under state surveillance. That's really unfair. Many, in India, consider them as a sect of Muslims, which they are not--an independent religion. Bahai population is growing quite fast in India though they are not flexing muscles about their population.

Hiding faith: Not too open about conversion, growing figures as yet!

I have met a few Bahais here and there. Recently, at a programme, to highlight their issues in Iran, a journalist got irked with Bahais. 'You hide your identity', he charged them at a gathering they organised to raise the issue of Baha'i persecution in Iran.

"We don't", they said. The journo asked, 'If you believe in all religions equally then why you convert others?', the debate continued. I don't have any thing against Bahais.

If anyone wants to get converted to the faith, he has every right to do so. What I didn't exactly like are incidents like the recent marriage of a Muslim orphan girl to a Bahai family of Muslim names.

The organisers, all of whom were highly educated, deliberately mispronounced the name of the girl and hid her surname to conceal that she was a Muslim. At orphanages such things do happen routinely. As far as preaching to an adult is concerned, I am not much interested but incidents like this one are disturbing.

The Bahais claim to have followers in every country except Vatican. However, their claims of numbers seem exaggerated. In India they claim a population of 20 lakh [2 million] and tens of millions in the world. I don't think these are correct.

But it is quite clear that the Bahai faith may not be growing too fast in Europe and America, but in India, Bahai missionaries are quite active. They are working in rural areas also. However, at state level, there is no recognition of this religion as yet.

Christian and Sikhs have also converted. Among the biggest converts, however, are Parsis [Indian Zoroastrians]. Perhaps, this is because its a new faith that brings a new energy for them, and Parsis who are turned outcast after marriage with a non-Parsi, adopt this faith, which also comes from their ancestors' land--Persia [Iran].