Conversion calling, Religious revealing
By Aruna Jethwani
The world literally swept under my feet for those few minutes as soon as I heard that my neighbour’s son Lal and his wife Sona, had converted to Christianity. They had become Christians. I was completely baffled at the very thought. Lal, I remember, was devout Hindu, a devotee of Srinathji of Nathdwara and he was a pure vegetarian and teetotaler. His wife Sona, though raised in Indonesia was a worshipper of Lord Shiva. She even regularly fasted on Mondays and visited temples of Lord Shiva to make her milk offerings.
This sudden somersault in their lives came to me as a big surprise. On further enquiry, I was informed the Sona had taken her husband to Indonesia, but despite their many attempts, my neighbour’s son did not find a suitable job. This led the couple to complete frustration, and they ran into a missionary group, called ‘Charishma.’ This missionary comforted them, took them into their fold and promised them the good things of life. The impact of conversion was so profound that Lal, a typical NRI Sindhi, decided to become a Padra. His first target was of course his won family. His sister, brother-in-law, and his sister-in-law all became ‘Spirituals’?
I dismissed this as an isolated case and attributed their change of faith to rootlessness and alienation in a foreign land. But alas, I was wrong!! For, I ran into several Sindhis from Indonesia, who felt pride in calling themselves ‘reborn.’ “Do you know the reason?” a colleague once asked citing me at least 10 instances from her masi’s extended family in Jakarta who had converted to Christianity. In search of a response, I discovered that there are many Christian missionaries in Indonesia, who find it difficult to convert Muslims, so they grab Sindhi youth, who unfortunately, lack firsthand knowledge of their religion. These people find Hinduism or Sindhuism very difficult to comprehend and hence are an easy prey. But let me tell you, the kind of Christianity they follow is very Hindu, i.e. it is extremely ritualistic. Ritualism runs high in Indonesia.
True enough. Last summer I visited an NRI’s home in Kuala Lumpur. The lady of the house, who resembled my mother in all her actions, took me to her worship place in her room. It housed all the Hindu Gods and deities. The walls had pictures of Sadhu Vaswani, Anantpur Maharajji and Radha Swami Maharajji, Sai Baba among others. She had not visited India for the last 50 years, but spoke chaste Sindhi. She was very affectionate and noble, like ‘Surmi Sindhi Zaaifa.’ Her face had the magic glow of spirituality. A family like that also had a member who was ‘reborn.’ And she was respected and accepted in her new avatar, with grace and dignity.
I was therefore not surprised, when the social historian Amtia Raina Thappar (based in Manila) informed me, that nearly 300 families in Philippines had been baptized. “This is a strange phenomenon,” she said. “Sindhis have their spiritual moorings. They used to regularly attend discourses of their saints, such as, J. P. Vaswani, Swami Chinmaya, Swami Maharaji visit them, hold discourses with them. They have their temples and Gurudwaras, at home and outside.” It is a game of survival, I explained. Moreover these Sindhis will never return to India. Sooner or later they have to assimilate. The sooner they do, the better. However a Sindhi Diwan, in Manial apprised us that these Sindhis who have lived in rural Philippines for half a century, cut off from their kith and kin, are the ones how have chosen Christianity as their future religion. But this is only half the truth.
A few years ago, there was a huge hoarding outside the Nehru Memorial Hall, Pune announcing a three-day meeting of “World Sindhi Spirituals”, and I though here was a ‘Sufi group’, trying to preserve their rich heritage. Out of curiosity I walked in, only to find discourses on Christ and the problems of ‘reborns.’ Somewhere I spotted a missionary who had been our student. We had given her a prize for the best-behaved girl. This girl who was so good in reciting Gurubani, was the one who had organized this World Meeting of Sindhi Christians under the misleading banner of ‘Sindhi Spirituals.’ Yes, she was from Jakarta.
Does this create problems for their children? Yes and no. When Benny, wearing a big cross came to fill her college admission form, she was at a total loss. Mother tongue Sindhi, Nationality Indonesian, Religion ___________ ?? “I am Christian. I am not. My mother is Christian, my father is not. My grand aunt is Christian, but grandma is not. I am half-half.” She fasts on Monday, visits church on Sunday. She observes “teejari” and “chand”, but always wears her religious identity – The Cross.
So if on Friday evening you hear Christian sermons in Mirchandani, Mehboobani, Fidriani’s house, do not be surprised. For there is a miniscule Sindhi community of NRI’s mostly in the South East Asia, who have christened themselves as Sindhi spirituals. A spiritual name for “Sindhi Christians.”