Various Church organisations in the north-eastern states have criticised the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) over its sub-committee that indicated an unprecedented increase in the Christian population in Nagaland, Mizoram and Meghalaya. Organiser correspondent, Pramod Kumar spoke to NCM chairman, Sardar Tarlochan Singh on this issue. Excerpts:
What prompted you to constitute this sub-committee?
After the recent Census report on religion, the NCM decided to analyse its findings to get a proper picture on every religion. So, we constituted a committee of experts under the chairmanship of Shri Ashish Bose, who is the best demographer in the country. Along with him, we also requested four other demographers who deal with population issues in Delhi University, JNU and the Indian Institute of Population, Mumbai, to analyse the Census report on every religion. Our purpose was that after getting a detailed report, the minority communities should themselves study the report and see if there was a need to take some corrective steps to remove the shortcomings.
The first report was prepared on the Sikh community and presented to prominent Sikh leaders at a meeting held at the Commission'soffice. The meeting was presided over by the highest Sikh authority, the Jathedar of Akal Takht. All the Sikh Jathedars, Sikh MPs, Sikh principals and Vice Chancellors attended the meeting. The report showed that the condition of the Sikh community was worst because their female sex ratio was declining. Unfortunately, they are killing the highest number of unborn girls. Even the Sikh community has raised a hue and cry against me alleging that Tarlochan Singh is defaming the Sikh community. But these are the hard facts. During the meeting, the Jathedar of Akal Takht himself said that the Minority Commission had done a very good job to apprise us of our shortcomings. Since that day onwards, the Sikh community has become very active and plans to correct the wrongs which they have committed.
The second report pertained to Parsees, and was presented to the Parsee community leaders at a meeting held in Mumbai. The analysis of the sub-committee showed that the population of Parsee community is declining rapidly. If this decline continues, in the next 25 years no Parsee will be left in India. So, they do need to take some corrective steps. There were many other issues that we discussed at that meeting. The Parsees were happy with our findings.
The third report was on Christians. We went to Cochin to release the report, as Kerala is the base for Christians. The Cardinal, who is the highest authority for Catholic Christians, also lives in Cochin. The meeting was presided over by the Cardinal. There were over 40 senior Christian leaders from different parts of the country. It was Shri Ashish Bose, not the Minority Commission nor its member or myself who presented the report. All the facts in the report are based on the Census report.
What are the findings of the committee?
The committee, in fact, helped to remove the grouse against Christians that they are increasing their population through irregular or underhand means or through conversion. Because, in the last ten years, the total population of Christians has not altered. They were 2.3 per cent in 1991 and even in 2001 they remained at 2.3 per cent. There are points in the report that go in favour of the Christians. However, the committee reported that three states in the north-east-Nagaland, Meghalaya and Mizoram-were witness to an abnormal increase in the Christian population. The Cardinal for the first time proclaimed that conversion was not part of the programme of Christians. He said, ?We are against any sort of conversion through any underhand means. If entire India wants to become Hindu, we shall welcome it.? He said that they had no dispute with the Hindus. But the media did not report this.
Shri Ashish Bose has cited two reasons for this increase: first, it is feared that the Muslims from Bangladesh have registered themselves as Christians as they apparently feel more secure to be Christian rather than Muslim. Secondly, he said that the north-east states are mostly Vanvasi areas where the inhabitants could have registered themselves as Christians. The ball is now in the court of Christians and they should see the records. Ashish Bose will again survey the area, as we have to examine the overall position. The Commission is for minorities, but we also want that the minorities should assume that no wrong is being done by any of their groups.
Do you want to say that the increase in Christian population in these states is not because of conversion?
That we cannot say at the moment because another meeting is to be held on this issue. Data is being collected on north-east through churches and also by the Ashish Bose committee on how the Vanvasis had been registered earlier and whether the Hindu population has fallen. The charges against the Church are that they are converting the deprived Hindus through allurements. If a Vanvasi, who is a non-Hindu, writes as Christian, then it is not a conversion. But this point is yet to be examined by the Church and also by the Ashish Bose committee. Till then, I cannot say anything on it.
What is the contribution of analysis and data submitted by the committee since a further analysis will be done to find out if it was conversion or infiltration from Bangladesh as the reason for the increase in Christian population?
We shall analyse the findings after we deliver the next report on Muslims, which is scheduled to be released on April 31 at a meeting with Muslim leaders.
The Christian organisations in north-east have criticised the findings. What is your reaction, particularly when you presented the report to the Church leaders in Kerala?
Why should they cry? We have not distorted the facts. Neither has our committee committed any wrong. It is the Census that says that they are 80 per cent; we have not said it. The reason for the increase is yet to be examined. The Church leaders should help us. We do not want to create a strife between the majority and minority communities.
Are you planning to present the report to the Home Minister?
We are not sending our report to them, because the media has already published it all. But we shall present a report with our views only after we complete the term.
Are you proposing any follow-up on the report?
The follow-up on two reports on Sikhs and Parsees, has been very good. The third, on the Christians, is awaited. We are very happy with the response of the first two communities.
What is the view of the Commission on evangelism or conversion? Is it a violation of the constitutional rights granted to the minorities over protection of their religion?
The Commission is deeply concerned with the fact that conversion is taking place as an organised festivity. Change of religion should be a matter of individual choice. The law is against the use of any kind of incentive or propaganda for conversion activity and nobody should celebrate or take pride in achieving conversion from another community.
Is the conversion activity confined to the north-east or to the Vanvasi areas?
We cannot comment till we complete this work. But as regard to the totality of the report it does not give any clue on any major incident of conversion anywhere else. That is why the committee has localised it to these three states. In other states there may be a district or two here and there, but the sub-committee has not presented any overall alarming picture.