Part 1
'Hindu gods never forgive. They only punish'

Part 2
'Only Islam gives protection to women'

'Hindu gods never forgive. They only punish'

George Iype

These days poet Kamala Sorayya spends more time in the Gulf countries than in Kerala. Her acquaintances and friends say the neo-Muslim convert is giving poetic discourses to the Islamic world. In turn, she receives religious discourses from Islamic scholars.

When Madhavikutty alias Kamala Das embraced Islam on December 13 and became Kamala Sorayya, the incident did not change her life alone. She is no longer Madhavikutty to her Malayali readers. Nor is she Kamala Das to her English fans anymore.

Her controversial conversion has left a lasting imprint on the way she writes. Sorayya is these days engaged in completing a series on Allah and Islam. She now believes that Allah is her creative inspiration whether it is in poetry or paintings.

The high-profile poet's change of faith seems to have set off a chain reaction of conversions which social commentators and critics say is changing the cultural and religious landscape of Kerala. People irrespective of caste, religion, social status and profession are converting these days. From Hinduism to Islam and Buddhism. From Christianity to Islam. From Islam to Hinduism.

Conversion, like a contagious disease, has affected the poor and the mighty, the creative and the religious.

"Poets and intellectuals are becoming conscious of their religions not because of faith, but because they crave for cheap publicity," says Raheem Faizi, a leading Muslim reformist thinker.

"Poor Christian missionary Graham Stuart Staines and his two sons were burnt to death in Orissa on charges of aiding conversion. But Staines lived with and for a cause-service of the poor. But here in Kerala there are no charges of aiding and abetting conversions. It is voluntary and it has become a fashion," Faizi says.

Many like Faizi point out that poet Balachandran Chullikkad became a Buddhist because he wanted to somehow follow Kamala Das, whom he admires.

Chullikkad does not reject the theory. "I have been inspired by Kamala Das to change my religion. I was greatly disturbed and dejected by the character assassination that the saffron brigade carried out on her," he says.

Adds Chullikkad, a brilliant orator: "I have not converted because I have not been a believer though I was a Hindu. I have now embraced Buddhism, not converted to Buddhism."

In February, the poet travelled to Bodhgaya in Bihar and formally initiated himself into Buddhism. His tirade is clearly focused these days against the saffron brigade.

"The problem with Hinduism is that it is a religion of social status and set-ups. Your value in Hinduism depends on the family in which you were born," he says.

Chullikkad is not a Marxist. And he never spares an opportunity to criticise the Left. "The Left parties are not for the welfare of the marginalised people. They are for their own welfare," he adds.

Both Sorayya and Chullikkad argue that their conversion was out of conviction and not a sudden decision. They say the "idea" was churning their minds for many years. For many days prior to her formal announcement of entering the new religious life, Madhavikutty met with Muslim religious scholars and women members of the community in Malappuram, the state's pre-dominant Muslim district. Chullikkad interacted and lived with Buddhist monks to imbibe inspiration and love in the religion he has embraced.

Has the change of religion by Das and Chullikkad caused considerable embarrassment to the saffron brigade? Hindu leaders argue that conversions are not based on faith or conviction.

"Poets, you know, are eccentric people. Conversion for them is a method to target the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and its affiliated bodies," says Dr P Ramachandran, the Kerala VHP president.

"Hindus are not worried about these high-profile conversions. Everyone knows these are publicity crazy people," he adds.

Dr Ramachandran claims some Hindu leaders spoke against Sorayya because she abused Hindu gods whom she had adored from her birth. "Hindus have abused and hurt me. They have often tried to scandalise me. I cannot repose faith in Hindduism because Hindu gods never forgive. They only punish," Sorayya had told soon after her formal initiation into Islam.

The VHP leader warns that no one has the right "to abuse a religion when he or she abandons it." "That is what happened with Kamala Das. Nobody knows how profound is her knowledge and conviction in Islam," he adds.

Social commentators say the conversion is taking political overtones. Inspired by the Shiv Sena ideology, a group of Muslims and Christians led by upcoming Muslim writer Palakkode K Hassan have joined Hinduism.

Hassan, 30, claims he is a regular contributor to various religious periodicals in India. His new name is Kamal Hassan. "I love that name. I have been thinking of converting to Hinduism for years. But being in the Muslim community, it was not easy. Shiv Sena leaders have given me courage," Hassan says.

State Shiv Sena president Bhuvana Chandran claims it is "a fitting reaction to the conversion from Kamala Das and Chullikkad."

"A campaign has been on in Kerala that only Hindus convert to Islam and Christianity. I think now more and more Christians and Muslims want to embrace Hinduism," Chandran feels.

Professor K A Jaleel, a Muslim reformist and chairman of the Kerala Wakf Board, feels the spate of conversions in the state is a strange, new development.

"Change of formal religion, especially from Islam to Hinduism, has never been a normal phenomenon in Kerala," he says.

"These people are trying to communicate a new kind of religious awareness which I have not yet fully understood. But I think they want to advertise themselves in their new religions," he adds.

But Professor Jaleel feels the conversion of one Madhavikutty, one Chillikkad and one Hassan will not result in a social and religious upheaval in Kerala. "It is not like a wild fire. A couple of dozens of conversions do not change the social set up of a state. But it clearly points to a new trend," he says.

The Wakf Board chairman concedes that there has recently been a personal quest, an unprecedented hunger for new religions among literary people.

"It appears to be a new phenomenon in the new millennium. It is hard to explain why the famous literary figures are advertising their religion these days," Professor Jaleel says.

"It is definitely a fashion. But it is fine that people are finding religions as soothing repositories," he feels.

Father Paul Thelakkat, a Christian thinker and editor of the popular Catholic weekly Sathyadeepam, too is of a similar belief. The series of conversions, he says, augurs well for Kerala society and India.

"It proves it is a free society here. Unlike in north India, people do not kill you if you convert. People here are free to choose the religion of their liking," he holds.

According to Father Thelakkat, the conversions in Kerala are disturbing only one section: the BJP and its affiliates. "They have been campaigning against the Christian community in the past two years. But where is the BJP when the rich and the famous in Kerala are converting?" he asks.

The prelate claimed the change of religion of famous people in Kerala could be a strong reaction against the anti-conversion campaign of the VHP. "It is a slap on the face of those Hindu advocates that Kerala's most famous conversions have come from traditional Hindu families like that of Kamala Das and Balachandran Chullikkad," he adds.

He also denies reports that a few Christians have converted to Hinduism and Islam recently. "Conversion from Christianity to other religion rarely happens, especially in Kerala. As per our knowledge, it happens only in cases of marriages. Love, change your religion, and get married -- that is very common here," Father Thelakkat adds.

Church authorities still believe that Christians in the state are stubborn and never convert. Clad in black purdah, her hands adorned with colourful bangles, Sorayya these days radiates with the thrill of having converted to Islam. And Chullikkad never misses a chance to proclaim his new religion.

Meanwhile, posters -- some of them obscene -- have sprung up in different parts of Kerala: 'Crucify Kamala Das', 'Chullikkad is a fraud and liar', 'Down with VHP', 'Church is our enemy.'

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