“These days it is difficult to talk about religion, especially if you are a minority,” says Amol Lalzare, IndiaUnheard Community Correspondent from the megapolis of Mumbai. “Even if you are referring to it in whimsy, your friends from other religions tend to get uncomfortable, even angry. So I wonder, how does a person from a religious minority talk about his religious issues without being labeled a ‘radical’ or a ‘betrayer’ or an ‘evangelist’?”
Amol is a resident of sprawling Sathe Nagar Slums. He describes the religious constitution of the slum as ‘diverse’ with a ‘Hindu majority’. Amol is a Christian. His grandparents were Matang Dalits who later embraced Christianity. Three generations later, he is still unable to shrug of the specter of ‘conversion’ that haunts his religious life. Being a secular citizen of a religious country and also a boisterous fun loving young man, Amol enjoys all festival across religions. But there have been times during the festivities, when he was singled out by his friends and neighbors from other religions for being a ‘convert’.
He is aware of rumors that circulate about his community that they have taken money from the preachers to change their religion. “They are unwilling to listen to reason,” says Amol. “They have a shallow understanding of a very complex subject. They make caricatures out of us and demonize us.”
Amol also blames the media. “When was the last time you saw an average working man speak about his religious issues on Indian television? The mainstream doesn’t want complex debates on complex issues; it wants an exciting substitute for a cricket match. So, they invite religious leaders and politicians across the table and rustle up a controversy. They are just feeding into people’s fear of each other.”
The Constitution of theIndiain keeping with the principle of secularism has adopted the right to religion as a fundamental right of every citizen. The Supreme Court has interpreted the right as a personal choice made by the individual. “Dr. Ambedkar who drafted our constitution was a convert himself,” says Amol. “Why do you think that happened? Everyone knows the answer. Dr. Ambedkar was born in Mahar Dalit family. He was oppressed by the religion he was born in and therefore, he turned to Buddhism.”
“There are many reasons why one chooses to convert. The first among them is ‘dignity’.”
Before they converted to Christianity, Amol’s grandparents could not walk through a so called ‘upper caste’ neighborhood with their slippers on. When they walked on public roads, they were forced to tie a broom to their hips which would sweep the ground behind them thereby maintaining ‘the purity’ of the ground. They also had to tie a mud receptacle across their neck incase they ever wanted to take a spit. Failure to comply with ‘tradition’ would result in public humiliation and in some cases, beating and torture.
“Christianity promised my grandparents the right to dignity and freedom from an ancient oppression,” says Amol,”That was the reason they decided to convert. That is the reason I am a Christian today. But no one wants to listen to this story because no one wants to discuss caste.”
IndiaUnheard asked Amol if he had ever faced discrimination within the Church. He says that he has heard of it but never experienced it. What if he does?
“Can’t really say,” he says, “But I sure will make a video on it.”