Expect nothing, live frugally on surprise.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A re-look at religious conversions

In Indian secularism you have to be open to the idea that the religious demography of the country will not remain static. The Constitution guarantees us the right to practice and propagate our faith and that includes soliciting people to convert..I WAS holding off writing this article for a while. Now that communal passions in the country seem to have cooled down to a certain degree, this would be a good time to have an objective analysis of the ’religious conversion’ debate. This, I believe, is extremely important because the problem at hand is intrinsically linked to the fundamental notion of India. We are a country that practices a unique brand of secularism that is found nowhere in the world. Every other country that holds the ideal of secularism sacred equates the same with the principle of separation of religion and state. But in India secularism means a state that gives each and every religion equal space. There is a fundamental difference which can be highlighted by juxtaposing India and the United States. In the Unites States when they say America is a secular country they mean that irrespective of your religion, race or ethnicity, you are an American first and as an American you are entitled to the opportunities that the United States provides for you.

In other words, in the US, or for that matter any country that says it practices secularism, a person’s religious background is of no consequence to the state. A person is free to practice any faith that he or she wants because it is inconsequential.
However, the Indian version of secularism is totally different. Secularism here means that a person has every right to freely practice and assert his or her faith. Religion in India is recognized as an integral part of our lifestyle and an inherent feature of our culture. As a result what this means is that the state of India acknowledges a person’s religion and would like to ensure that that person has no obstacles in practicing his or her own faith. In short, Indian secularism seeks inclusiveness of all religions whereas the secularism that is practiced elsewhere aims at keeping religion at bay. That being said let us get to the crux of the problem. What we are witnessing today is symptomatic of our interpretation of secularism. But before I proceed let me make it clear that I have no problems with the same. I believe that this form of secularism is something that we should preserve and it is with this understanding that I put forward the following hypothesis. The recent violence against Christians in Orissa and in other parts of south India has been largely understood to be a blowback against the vociferous conversion activities of Christian missionaries. It has been alleged that these missionaries indulge in forcibly converting people through allurements and deceit. This is also the position that political parties such as the BJP and other right-wing Hindu fundamentalist organizations have taken. What is surprising, however, is that a large section of educated Hindus who have condemned the violence have done so with a caveat that the conversion activities of the Christian missionaries must be somehow regulated. For the stand that more and more people are increasingly taking is that yes India is a secular country, yes a person should be free to practice his or her faith, but conversion activities should be best avoided and that the religious demography of the country must remain by and large constant.
Well I say this is all bunkum. If you believe in Indian secularism then you have to be open to the idea that the religious demography of the country will not remain static. The Indian Constitution guarantees us the right to practice and propagate our faith and that includes soliciting people to convert. In fact, to say that you are free to practice your faith but not preach the same is a misnomer. Freedom of religion is freedom of religion and there are no half measures in the same. Now coming down to this entire business of the ’methods adopted to convert people’. Nobody in their right senses will support forcible conversions or conversions through deceit. If someone puts a gun to your head and tells you to convert or if someone creates such circumstances for you that you have no other choice but to convert against your own free will, then let me tell you that there are already laws against the same. You cannot make anyone do anything through intimidation or blackmail. As soon as someone does that it constitutes crime under the Indian Penal Code. Such crimes have nothing to do with religion and are, in fact, civil offences that warrant suitable punishment. Hence, there is already a judicial mechanism and a law and order machinery in this country to take care of cases of forcible religious conversion. But what about conversions through allurements?As I understand it there is nothing wrong with religious conversions through allurements. If a Christian missionary or an Islamic organization is giving me loads of money to convert to their respective religions, they are well within their rights to do so. Banning the same will be like banning commercial advertising. If the makers of Suzuki cars have the right to entice me with a Sony home theatre if I purchase a Maruti 800, then the Dalai Lama foundation also has the right to lure me into becoming a Tibetan Buddhist with the promise of free supply of Smirnoff Vodka. The point is that this is not blackmail because I have the free choice to say no. Those who argue that the poor of Orissa’s KBK region and Kandhamal have no choice but to accept Christianity and call that blackmail, are simply wrong. First of all it cannot be called blackmail because poverty and hunger in Orissa’s backward regions are not the creation of Christian missionaries and is due to the failure of successive state administrations. Second, even if we assume that the charitable work that the Christian missionaries are doing there is being done with the vested interest of converting people, then too I do not see what the fuss is about. If the starving poor, for whom the administration has done nothing, are being fed in the process I honestly don’t see the reason for complaining. The people who are being fed will surely not complain, and if that is the case then why should anybody else have a problem? Yes, ideally the Church should feed people without telling them to convert and if certain missionaries are doing the opposite then all that means is that there is room for debate and reform within the Church itself. But there is nothing illegal that these missionaries have done so far and no Christian convert in Orissa has complained of being cheated by them. It is the VHP and the Bajrang Dal that has done the complaining and worse. Killing, raping and rendering people homeless is non-negotiable. These organisations have shamed us all and have injured the very spirit of our secular society. It is they that need to be banned.


  © Free Blogger Templates Blogger Theme by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP