To propagate is not to convert
Astonishing ignorance laces the arguments, proffered by bleeding heart lib-left intellectuals and politicians who insist that secularism means denial of Hindu rights, in defence of religious conversions through deceit, allurement and coercion. “The Constitution guarantees Christian missionaries the right to convert people to Christianity,” we are told. “In a secular country, the Constitution reigns supreme,” we are reminded. “Violation of rights enshrined in the Constitution will destroy democracy,” we are warned. But what does the Constitution say? Ask them this simple question, and the Constitution-thumping saviours of secularism, pluralism and republicanism will be stumped.This is what Article 25(1) of the Constitution says: “Subject to public order, morality and health and to other provisions of this part, all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess, practice and propagate religion.” Read it out to those who pretend great outrage every time there’s a hint of protest against conversions, and they will pounce upon you: “See, the Constitution gives Christian missionaries the right to propagate their religion.” But the right to ‘propagate’ does not mean the right to ‘convert’. And it is this inability to distinguish between the two that highlights the appalling ignorance of those who see nothing wrong with offensive evangelism.That the constitutional right to ‘propagate’ does not mean the right to ‘convert’ was clarified by the Supreme Court while upholding the validity of anti-conversion laws — the Freedom of Religion Act 1967 and the Dharma Swatantraya Adhiniyam 1968 — in Orissa and Madhya Pradesh. Chief Justice AN Ray, in his ruling, left little scope for confusion between propagation and conversion — the two, he said, were different: “What Article 25(1) grants is not the right to convert another person to one’s own religion by exposition of its tenets.” The court also ruled that States, bearing in mind their responsibility to maintain public order, have the right to adopt laws “prohibiting conversion from one religion to another in a manner reprehensible to the conscience of the community”.Now let’s look at what has been happening in Orissa where violence has erupted in impoverished, tribal-majority Kandhamal district. Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, a Hindu monk and anti-conversion activist of the VHP who had spent more than three decades working for the welfare of indigent and illiterate Hindus, setting up schools and shelters for them, was shot dead last Saturday night at his ashram. Four of his associates were also killed in the murderous attack.Strangely, the administration suggested that the killings were the handiwork of Maoists, who promptly denied any role. Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, who was attacked on several occasions in the past by hoodlums on the payroll of missionaries, had recently received death threats and his associates had sought police protection for him. Two constables were detailed to provide him with ‘security cover’ — on the night he was killed, they were nowhere on the scene.Over the past week, VHP activists have run amok, attacking evangelical missions and their staff. The resultant death of eight persons and the destruction of property, often no more than huts, belonging to Christians is no doubt reprehensible; violence cannot, indeed, must not, be the response to the most provocative of black deeds. Yet, the blowback to Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati’s murder cannot be seen in isolation. It has to be seen in the context of evangelists ‘harvesting souls’ by inducing the poor and the illiterate to embrace Christianity. Rice bowl conversions have little to do with faith in the good lord.A couple of years ago, Christian organisations, including the Catholic church, raised a huge hue and cry over violence against evangelists in BJP-ruled Rajasthan. The Minorities Commission got into the act, thundering articles appeared in the ‘secular’ media and television channels ran a 24x7 campaign lambasting ‘Hindu nationalists’ for persecuting ‘innocent Christians’. As always, truth was the first casualty.The furore was centred over a Hindi book, Haqeeqat, which was being freely distributed in Rajasthan’s tribal-dominated areas by ‘Archbishop’ MA Thomas and his son, ‘Reverend’ Samuel Thomas, of the Emmanuel Mission International. Written by a Kerala-based evangelist, MG Mathew, the book had been translated into Hindi by another evangelist, Daniel Nathaniel, also associated with the Emmanuel Mission International.Here are some examples — the more lurid and explicit bits do not merit reproduction — of what the book had to say about Hindus and Hinduism:n “Hindu gods and goddesses are fictitious and were invented to persecute Dalits”.n “With the progression of time, people all over the world were freed of their ignorance and they began to dis- own wicked and cruel gods and goddesses. But in India, because people are (enveloped) in the darkness of ignor-ance, imaginary gods and goddesses are still worshipped.”n “Sita was abandoned in the forest as per Ram’s wishes... Ram later asked Lakshman to kill Sita. In the end, Ram, frustrated with life, drowned himself in Saryu. Such are the teachings of half-naked rishis.”n “Krishna had a despicable sex life.”The Government of Rajasthan, following street protests against the book, scrutinised its contents and decided to ban it to prevent the eruption of violence. Simultaneously, cases were registered against the father-son duo of ‘Archbishop’ Thomas and ‘Reverend’ Thomas. The senior Thomas went into hiding, his son was arrested. The Emmanuel Mission International’s premises were raided and copies of the book seized. Immediately thereafter, the campaign of calumny began. There’s nothing new about such traducement; along with allurement, inducement, fraud and coercion, it has been one of the mainstays of evangelism.Religious conversions can have sinister social implications and destabilising political consequences. It’s not for nothing that Mrs Indira Gandhi, incandescent with rage after the mass conversion of Hindus to Islam at Meenakshipuram in February 1981, favoured the idea of States adopting anti-conversion laws and had the Home Ministry prepare a draft Act for circulation among State Governments. Why the draft never became law is another story best kept for another day.
Coffee Break / Sunday Pioneer / August 31, 2008.