Pope'scondemnation of India is uninvited and ridiculous. Isn'tit ironic that Pope, the head of the smallest independent nation in the world, which is neither secular nor democratic and is governed by a religious head elected by some cardinals, is advising religious freedom to one of the largest secular democracies?
History is replete with violent bloodshed caused by the intolerant Church and India, on the other hand, has from times immemorial been preaching and practicing religious tolerance and peaceful coexistence. While, the Vatican has time and again shown disrespect to other religions by asserting that Christianity is the supreme and the only true path, India, has believed in ?Sarva Dharma Sambhava? or equal respect for all religions. The followers of various religions have lived together in India in peace and harmony for centuries. In a report UNESCO had pointed out that out of 128 countries where Jews lived before Israel was created in 1948, only one, India, did not persecute them and allowed them to prosper and practice Judaism in peace. While the Christians hounded them out of their countries all over the world, the Hindus provided them shelter.
India is an independent country, with her own constitution, and legislature and judiciary to implement and protect the constitution. The people of India have complete faith in her systems and do not need to know what is ?unconstitutional (and) contrary to the highest ideals of India'sfounding fathers? from a foreigner. Her founding fathers had very clear perception in all matters including religious freedom and conversions. While they all were definitely and strongly in favour of religious freedom but none approved proselytising.
The father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi, had time and again very heavily criticised the activities of Christian missionaries and religious conversions. He had once said, ?If I had power and could legislate, I should certainly stop all proselytising.? The first Prime Minister of India, Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru had made it clear that while conversion by an individual out of deep conviction was unexceptionable, there was no room for mass conversions of the kind indulged in by missionaries by inducement and alienation. Even Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, the father of Indian Constitution, according to his own statement had while converting to Buddhism ?taken care? that his ?conversion will not harm the tradition of the culture and history of this land?. He regarded Christianity as foreign religion and converting to Christianity as betraying his motherland.
India has never been averse to individuals converting to any religion by choice based on one'sown judgment and the merits of comparative religions, but conversions by allurement, temptation, threat, fraud, force, coercion or any other unethical means are despised. In Mahatma Gandhi'sviews, ?If a person, through fear, compulsion, starvation or for material gain or consideration, goes over to another faith, it is misnomer to call it conversion… Real conversion springs from the heart and at the prompting of God, not a stranger.?
The track record of the Church all over the world reveals the real designs behind conversion. The African experience as expressed by African Leader Jomo Kenyatta says it all, ?When the Europeans came, they had the Bible and we had the land. They said that this is the book of God and asked us to meditate. When we opened our eyes they had the land and we had the Bible.?
In fact, the anti-conversion law objected to by the Vatican is not against conversion but against proselytising and conversion by deceit, bribery or other forms of coercion. It is a means to protect the fundamental right to religious freedom rather than hinder it. It seems to be Pope'signorance about this law that has provoked him to criticise it. If not, then Pope'sworry only confirms the common perception that the missionaries are indulging in conversion by unethical means.
Right to religious freedom is different from right to conversion. The Pope seems to be confusing one with the other. Religious freedom implies that one can talk about one'sreligion and explain its tenets but nobody has the right to resort to conversion. In 1977, the Supreme Court gave the judgment that the right to propagate religion in article 25(1) gives to each member of every religion the right to spread or disseminate the tenets of his religion (say by advocacy or preaching), but it would not include the right to convert another, because each man has the same freedom of ?conscience? guaranteed by that very provision in article 25(1).
The chequered history of Christian missionaries in India includes not only conversion by unethical means but also fostering separatist, anti-national movements in the name of the farcical liberation theology. The foreign Churches have been instrumental in subverting national loyalties and destroying cultural roots leading to secessionist movements. They have acted as the tools of Western imperialism in the guise of religious preaching and social work and have been a grave threat to the country'sinternal security. The Naga, Mizo and other tribal insurgencies in the north-east have received inspiration from the Church.
The M.B. Niyogi Committee, which was formed during the tenure of Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, had, after a detailed study of the activities of Christian missionaries and their foreign links, recommended an official ban on religious conversions. The committee also found that ?as conversion muddles the converts? sense of unity and solidarity with his society, there is danger of his loyalty to his country and the state being undermined?.
The track record of the Church all over the world reveals the real designs behind conversion. The African experience as expressed by African Leader Jomo Kenyatta says it all, ?When the Europeans came, they had the Bible and we had the land. They said that this is the book of God and asked us to meditate. When we opened our eyes they had the land and we had the Bible.? Seen in this context, the Pope'salarm over obstructions in ?reaping harvest? can be well understood.
The Pope is highly concerned about the religious freedom in countries with non-Christian majorities but why is same kind of concern not voiced about the plight of minorities in Christian majority countries? What does he have to say about the religious freedom in Russia where a temple of the Hindu minority was razed? What about the Sikh and Muslim minorities of France who are not allowed to wear head scarves and turbans as per their religious traditions? What about the sentiments of the Muslim minority of Denmark when Prophet'scartoons are published? Is it that just as Christianity is the only true path to salvation, the Christians are the only privileged people entitled to enjoy religious freedom?
The Pope has no right to meddle in India'sinternal affairs. Moreover, in the gory backdrop of intolerant Christianity as revealed by Christian history, the view Christianity holds regarding the followers of other faiths, the activities of the Christian missionaries in non-Christian majority countries and the attitude of Christian majority countries towards their religious minorities, the Pope has no moral right to advocate tolerance to the most tolerant and peace loving nation in the world. Pope'sallegation against India seems to be akin to a chimney calling the kettle black.
The Pope needs to put his house in order first before pointing fingers at others. Moreover, India stands in no need of lessons or certificate on religious tolerance from an intolerant foreign creed. After all, it is only the tolerance of the Indians that has allowed the successive Popes to visit India without rendering an apology for the worst and most inhuman atrocities committed by the Church during the Portuguese Inquisition.