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Communal Forces Are Using Anti Conversion Laws To Bash Religious Minorities In India

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By Thomson Chakramakkil:

The past decade witnessed a colossal wave of anti-conversion laws cracking down on missionary work in various Indian states, ranging from Gujarat to Himachal Pradesh. While the necessity of preventing forced conversions is real and undeniable, a meticulous examination of the recent Freedom of Religion bills points to how attempts are being made by various state governments to militate against the “danger” of people converting to other religions from Hinduism, especially to religions such as Christianity, to which they are being diligently acquainted to through work of evangelisation.

anti conversion

The recent laws, which include a demand for prior notification to the government before deciding to convert to a religion of one’s choice, is, to say the least, indicative of how a misguided sense of national religion has managed to crawl into the framework of our very constitution, that has always been dignified by well-founded secular ethos.

Before taking a stand on the legal amendments in question, one needs to look through the Indian constitution with a fine tooth-comb. Article 25 of Indian constitution grants citizens the right to profess, practise and propagate their faith in a manner that does not disrupt public order, and does not affect public health and morality adversely. On the other end of the spectrum, there are a series of anti-conversion laws, which are, according to the state, designed specifically to prevent conversions that are forced, and rightly demand clampdown.

All the same, what places the activities of missionaries on a bumpy terrain is the thin line between propagation and conversion. Various communal forces have, in the recent past, misinterpreted and abused anti-conversion laws, and used them as an excuse for challenging the rights of citizens and bashing the religious minorities. Instances of missionary persecution reported from various corners of our country, particularly such as the one carried out in Orissa by RSS and their allies in 2003, which killed twelve people and displaced as many as two-thousand, are, in fact, indicative of the collapse of a coherent tradition that championed cultural tolerance and plurality of religions. The fundamentalist notion of equating non-Hindu with non-Indian, and protecting this “fragile” Indian (Hindu) culture from the vile claws of missionaries, with acts masked as vigilante justice, is indeed a little more than baffling. Even more unfortunate is how right-wing thinkers like Arun Shourie trivialize acts of sheer brutality, such as the murder of Australian missionary Dr. Graham Staines and his children, by traditional nationalists, as a justified act of retribution for “converting” people.

Considering the apathy with which human right violations are ignored by the state, and non-coerced choices of individuals in accordance with the constitution are regulated, there is a need to re-evaluate how the legal system operates in the world’s largest democracy.

While it’s absurd to claim that missionaries are socially radical on principle, or their activities are not motivated by self-interest, their works for the betterment of the under-privileged have been, and continues to be, widely acknowledged and commended by the civil society. To claim that Indian culture is a singular abstraction which is “threatened” by the “foreign” beliefs propounded by these missionaries, and to hamstring the exchange of beliefs with concerns of social breakdown, are ways of being profoundly ignorant of the elasticity of our social fabric and carelessly dismissing our long history of religious co-existence.

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  1. Ishan

    Hinduism is no religion,it is only a conglomerate of various caste which are made to rule the nation by higher caste people.The books like ” Riddles in Hinduism” clarifies this fact. It is definite deprived sections of society will like to convert to other religion.As the nation is still under the control of high caste Hindu people,things mentioned above are bound to happen.

    Media is equally responsible for not bringing out such facts to the public.It is the responsibility of media first to bring out any change in this case.

    1. Incredible_India

      @ Mr. Ishaan

      Partially u r right. Hinduism is not a religion, but its a way of life. A principle and a thought which is most inclusive philosophy.

      It does have some divisions in castes and other origins. However what better are the other religions. At least Hinduism is not divided on god. Even today pandits and zamindars, or whatever caste they belong to go to the same temple. Not unlike christianity which has separate churches for catholics, protestants and jacobites. Or that people from one church group don’t pray at the other church. I belong to a state where this division is at the peak, and i can bet on it.

      And what exactly happens if one wants to know ” Harvesting of our Souls” by Arun shourie is an eye opener. Calling him a right wing thinker is something i would not agree upon. It beautifully illustrates what actually happens in a conversion process.
      A nation which can anoint Dr. Kalam, and Manmohan Singh as the president and PM ( both minorities) . or where all community has equal opportunity for every thing.
      Only someone so narrow minded can call this as being under control of high case hindu people. While the reverse reality is true to a good extent.. The rights and opportunities of the majority community have been reduced to a great extent, yet we continue to live in harmony. And still people like you can only be dissatisfied and find faults !

      Grow up and get a life pal!!!

  2. Deepak Venkateswaran

    Absoloutely biased and one sided view. Amazed at the way people can judge a religion just because it is practiced by the majority population in a country. Brilliant!!

    Hinduism is not a religion first of all one should realize.. It is a way of life and a way of thinking which is one of the most inclusive philosophies in the whole world.

    If any communal incident occurs people look at only the side of the minorities. NO one looks at the cause of \how the tension started. All are just behind what one calls the minority sentiment. And i believe in the recent years the unfair exploitation of this right has gone up to a great extent.

    No one looks at how pandits at kashmir were thrown out of their home, or no one looks at how Hindus living in pakistan were forced to flee out while India with a hindu population dominantly adopted a secular outlook and an inclusive policy towards all. But no one raises their voice against this just because they are majority community and they have to fend for themselves isn’t it?? Amazed at your narrow mindedness towards religions!!!

    1. Thomson Chakramakkil

      Deepak,
      I feel that so much stereotyping and hate can be dealt with if we understand the distinction between a religion and a group of extremists who claim to follow it. This article has nothing to do with Hinduism. Rather, it is about Hindutva which has historically viewed propagation of a particular religion as anti-national and threatening to the “indigenous” Indian culture .
      I know Hindus are being mistreated is parts of the world where they form the minority. And, I condemn it categorically. But this piece is about allowing the citizens of a country, that is secular, at least in name, to choose their religious identity without the fear of being targeted by communal forces such as Hindutva. Besides, I find the use of non-coerced choices of individuals as justification for instigating communal tensions as a an indicator of how juvenile our social set-up is.

    2. Keshav Iyengar

      Handing out freebies and gathering converts is as non-coerced as doling out things and getting votes is democratic, so let’s not go there. Apart from a handful of urban folk, very few people choose to convert. When one religion doesn’t proselytise, there have to be laws to safeguard it. I don’t see you speaking up against the unjust laws against Hindus, why don’t you advocate a UCC, for instance? Or the Madras Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment Act, for that matter? It is a well known fact that minorities in India have been pampered, and anti-conversion laws are a safeguard, not absolute, the way you claim them to be. Proselytisation is legal in India and you know that as well as I do. There is also documented proof of missionaries’ involvement in anti-national activities and the diverting of funds for all sorts of ’causes.’ Partition happened for a reason and the history is too bloody to be forgotten, please remember that. Yes, there are crazy Hindus, but the institution is pro-minority, not pro-Hindu.

    3. Thomson Chakramakkil

      I don’t remember mentioning at any point in the article that ‘handing out freebies as an incentive for conversion’ is non-coerced; so yes, we need not go there. I would like to know the basis for your claims about coerced conversions and missionaries being generically “anti-national”.
      This article tackles a specific, imperative issue; and I don’t intend to add anything to it at this juncture just to appease the rest of the world. I don’t deny the existence of fundamentalism in Christianity or claim that all missionaries are saints; but what you have done above is classify missionaries as a singular abstraction which is consistently working towards uprooting Hinduism. I, for one, can list out incidents of missionaries being attacked by Hindutva goons who share your disillusionment when it comes to countering the “threat” posed by Christianity in the destruction of the great “Indian” culture, which is, quite intriguingly, governed exclusively by monolithic Hindu social and moral codes. I recently spoke to a missionary who doesn’t have the means to provide for himself, let alone dole out things to convert people, who had his fingers chopped off and face mutilated by “sensitive”, “threatened” agents of Hindutva while he was preaching by the side of the road in the most non-provocative manner.
      I don’t see how the Christian missionaries, who have been here from well before the British era and have managed to “convert” only less than 3% of the population, pose a threat to Hinduism. And to be fair, and despite the fact that Hinduism is an ethnic religion, there are enough proselytisation-based activities happening in the West and in India, under umbrella terms like ‘paravartan’ and ‘shuddhi’, on which I can send you a 7 page research piece.
      And yes, the institution is constitutionally pro-minority and it’s called affirmative action for a reason. But practically, India continues to be a Hindu, brahminical establishment precisely for the reasons I mentioned in the article.

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