THE Pope has protested against ?the reprehensible attempt to legislate? what he has been pleased to call ?clearly discriminatory restrictions on the fundamental right of religious freedom? and demanded that anti-conversion legislation ?must be firmly rejected.? The Indian Constitution permits not only the practice of religions but the right to propagate them and that has been loosely interpreted to mean the right to convert. So the Pope believes, he can nail our liberals to the Cross. He must be still living in the sixteenth century when Catholic priests with the sanction of the church imposed inquisition on the people of Goa and tortured and killed thousands in order to force people to convert to Christianity.
Not so long ago, Eduardo Faleiro, a former Union Minister addressing a National Seminar on Jesuit Presence in South Asia recalled what the late Archbishop Angelo Fernandes said about the ?exclusivist approach? of ?crypto colonial exclusivist? Christians. Such an approach, he said, ?still lurks in the hearts of many Christians not only in the West but also in Asia because they have inherited it from the West and seem to hold to it with more enthusiasm than critical sense.?
Such an exclusivist approach, the Archbishop said can be characterised in two words: ?Ignorance and arrogance?. In his address published in part in Mainstream, Faleiro, a practising Roman Catholic, also recalled the ?positive and significant contribution to religious harmony? made by the Federation of Asian Bishops Conference at the onset of the third millennium.
Faleiro demanded that there should be an end to ?exclusivist and triumphalistic attitudes, notions of superiority and ?chosen-ness? that one'sreligion is final and the only one that deserves absolute and final status?. He further recalled what was said in Resources Manual which is worthy of reprint. Said the Manual: ?The increase in the number of Church movements engaged in aggressive and militant evangelisation (understood in the very narrow sense of the word) is certainly a cause for concern for our brothers and sisters of other faiths. Some of the less than ethical means used in these proselytising efforts by members of these movements makes one wonder if they are really followers of Christ.?
The Pope, incidentally, may do well to read the history if inquisition imposed on the Hindus of Goa in the 16th century by Francis Xavier. He is also recommended to read the Jesuit theologian Sebastian Paindath who said that ?when a religion lays an absolute claim to truth, aggressive militancy and divisive proselytism follow and in their wake bitter religious conflicts?.
Indian states have perfect right to introduce laws against conversions because an effort to convert is an insult to India'sgreat culture and tradition and has nothing to do with human rights.
The Times of India ( May 22) rightly pointed out that the Pope'sremarks regarding India'ssupposed ?religious intolerance? will further inflame matters. Religion is not just a personal matter; in India it has to be protected by the State because the very liberalism that The Times of India speaks of has been taken advantage of by unscrupulous missionaries.
The paper says that conversion is ?a matter of individual moral fastidiousness and should not be made the basis for an over-reaching legislation?. It couldn'tbe more wrong. Attempting to convert Hindus is an onslaught against the nations'sancient culture and dharma and should be stopped through legal means. What the Church practised is itself religious intolerance and should be countenanced. One can understand the plea that India should not be?or even seen to be?a party to denigrate Christianity. We are a civilised people. But in this matter there are strong differences of opinion as in the instance of exhibiting the film The Da Vinci Code. The film was not made in Bollywood. It was done in a Christian country and is being shown in all Christian countries in Europe.
Commenting on the issues raised by the film The Hindu (May 20) said that ?a government that considers banning a film merely because one community or another might object is one that has failed to recognise its obligations to protect freedom of expression guaranteed under Article 19(a) of the Constitution?. The Hindu was strongly critical of the interference in the functioning of the Central Board of Film Certification by the Information and Broadcasting Minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi.
The Pioneer (May 18) was equally critical of the Information Minister for the ?crude manner in which he has gone about to black the film'srelease? which, the paper said, only showed ?yet another pathetic display of craven grovelling to appease alleged leaders of a minority community in the hope that it will fetch electoral bounty?. More importantly, said the paper, ?there is absolutely no reason why the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, a relic of the era when India aped the Soviet model of State control with disastrous results, should have any say at all in deciding what people should watch and read.?
The Asian Age (May 20) blamed the electronic media?and quite rightly?for adding fuel to the fire ?by playing up hotheads? in Christian community. At the same time the paper said that the Censor Board members should be aware of the sensitivities of the people in a multi-cultural and multi-religious society and see how best they can avoid offending people. In a democracy, said the paper, there are various means of protest and ?Catholics certainly did not want to be branded as fundamentalists?.
But what has come as a surprise is a report in The Indian Express (May 20) that said ?the secretive, spiritual Opus Dei? has centres in Delhi and Mumbai and has among its members ?the powerful and the rich, including civil servants and judicial officers?. The Da Vinci Code's Opus Dei, said the Express ?is a group with sadomasochistic and monastic rituals, one of whose members commits a serial murder in pursuit of a Church-threatening secret.?
But the last word on the subject was said by The Hindu which said that ?there is no basis for the clergy'sfears that The Da Vinci Code….will shift attitudes to traditional Christianity, damage faith in the Church or be regarded as anything other than mere fiction.?
And that said, one suspects, all is said. One may only add that in trying to get Christian opinion, the Information Minister did nothing wrong except treading on the toes of the Censor Board. If the Minister is to have the last word, what is the Censor Board for? It might as well be wound up.