BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra during a television debate ahead of the Bhoomi Pujan event at Ram Janmabhoomi in Ayodhya called Congress Rahya Sabha MP Kumar Ketkar ‘rice bag convert’. It was after the senior Congress leader claimed that it is yet to decided whether Rama is a ‘creation of history or literature’.
Kumar Ketkar said, “Ram exists because of Ramayan. However, a conclusion is yet to be reached on whether Ram is the creation of history or literature. Valmiki wrote a great epic and its impact was felt both in India and abroad. But, I don’t know if He existed in history.“ At this, Sambit Patra slammed him and ended up calling him a rice bag convert.
“What is the Congressman saying? He is asking whether Lord Ram is the creation of history or literature. He is telling us to show evidence that Ram existed… If you had said the same thing about Allah, you would have been beheaded by now. Be grateful that you are a Hindu else you would not have the audacity to say something like this,” said Sambit Patra.
What does Rice Bag Convert mean?
The term ‘Rice Bag Convert’ or ‘Rice Christians’ is used to refer to people who convert to Christianity after being induced to do so by Christian missionaries on the promise of material benefits. The Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, published in the 19th Century, defined Rice Christians as “Converts to Christianity for worldly benefits, such as a supply of rice to Indians. Profession of Christianity born of lucre, not faith.”
Jason Wordie in an article for the South China Morning Post wrote, “The term “rice Christians” appears in the writings of William Dampier, an English explorer (and occasional privateer-pirate) who visited Indo-Pacific waters in the late 17th century. Dampier dismissively wrote of the French Catholic priests active at that time in Indochina, opining that “alms of rice have converted more than their preaching”.”
He stated further, “Materially opportunistic religious adherents arrived in the region in the wake of European voyages to maritime Asia from the 16th century. Commonly known as “rice Christians”, they have a long and generally distasteful history in Hong Kong, and elsewhere.” Thus, quite clearly, the term does not mean that the inducement is limited to rice alone but it features prominently.
Concerns about ‘Rice Bag Converts’ or ‘Rice Christians’
As is to be expected, concerns regarding ‘rice bag converts’ or ‘rice Christians’ often come the most from Asian countries such as India, Japan and China. Historically, Japan went on a war with Christian missionaries in order to eradicate the presence of the religion which they perceived to be a cultural as well as a polirical threat.
While Christian missionaries these days tend not to use bags of rice to induce conversions, at least some of them do not appear to have lost their attachment with the symbolism of the object. Mission India, a Christian Evangelical organisation, calls one of its projects the ‘Rice Bag Project’. The project involves handing out ‘Mission India Rice Bags’ to children.
Some Christian organisations, too, have voiced their concerns with such inducement as they believe conversion through inducement will not lead to a true change of heart but only changes on the surface. Some of them have also issued directives to missionaries in order to urge them to refrain from using allurement for conversions.
One Baptist Christian publication said, “On occasion, it might not be wrong to HELP another church to build its building, when it is plain that that congregation is doing all it can to build the building, and when it is plain that that congregation would eventually get its own building with or without outside help. But to channel U.S. church funds into church buildings in Asia (or elsewhere) is a very serious mistake. It will weaken those churches, at best. It is even possible that the churches which are so aided will never be true churches, being peopled only by “rice Christians.””
Another article noted, “Cambodia’s relative religious freedoms have encouraged Christian groups to set up shop in the Kingdom, but they risk creating ‘rice Christians’ when they preach to the poor.” The author of another ‘code of conduct’ for ‘Christian witness’ noted, “To the best of my ability I tried to explain to this well-meaning but misguided pastor that his approach to cross-cultural ministry was bound to produce “rice Christians” drawn to “faith” by the enticing prospect of a free trip to an American vacationland.”