Intro: Conversion as an issue has been haunting the Country since long and just because Sangh is the only organisation that has been speaking about it, keeping the larger national interest in perspective, it will not be fair to lampoon its views as it is not to the liking of the votaries.
“If I had power and could legislate, the first thing I would ban is conversions.” —Mahatma Gandhi
It is likely that the reader of this write up may get baffled (may get a little mystified?) as to why I have chosen to quote Mahatma Gandhi on the issue of conversion, a topic which of late has occupied centre stage and if votaries of conversion are to be believed, has allegedly threatened the social fabric of the country. I have quoted Gandhiji for the simple reason that he referred to conversion of the Hindus to other religion way back in the year 1935 and hence the need of a legislation whereas in today’s time the
supporters of conversion have sought to make the debate on this pertinent issue so lopsided.
Of all the arguments advanced by such votaries, what takes the cake is their purported “constitutional right” to indulge in conversion of Hindus into other religions and any attempt to tell them that their understanding is incorrect is meted with derision and allusions are made to being subjugated to a “majoritarian” view!
|“Mother Teresa’s service would have been good. But it used to have one objective, to convert the person, who was being served, into a Christian.”
—Mohan Bhagwat, Sarsanghachalak, RSS
Given this state of affairs, it is necessary that the oft-repeated arguments advanced by the votaries of conversion need to be scrutinised to see if there is any iota of truth in what they have been saying all along to serve their vested interest. One has listed out certain arguments which need not be in any particular order or priority to highlight what are we made to hear and believe to be the correct position.
1. Right to Convert is enshrined in the Constitution
This is arguably the most abused argument from those who believe that Article 25 of the Constitution gives them a Right to Convert Hindus to other religion and mostly this argument has found mention umpteen times in print & electronic media as also in the literature of the missionaries’ institutions who seek to justify their actions.
Truth be told. This argument is far from truth and comes out from a reading of this provision of the enactment that says “subject to public order, morality and health, all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion”. The votaries only rely on the “right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion” without ever telling us that even this is subject to public order and morality to put forth their flawed view that conversion is allowed by the Constitution. The sad truth is that so immense has been their ability to propagate this view that at first instance it appeals as credible and cogent argument. However, the fallacy of this argument is that it is contrary to what a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court held way back in 1977 in the case of Rev Stanislaus vs. State of Madhya Pradesh, 1977 SCR (2) 611, wherein the finding was that Right to Convert is not a Constitutional right and that Article 25 cannot be interpreted to say so.
This judgment of the Supreme Court has an interesting background that is worth recalling. Madhya Pradesh, in the year 1967, enacted a law banning conversion so did Odihsa (then Orissa) in the year 1968. Both the laws were challenged before the respective High Court on the premise that it is against Article 25, while the MP High Court rejected such a plea, the Odisha High Court accepted it and the cases went up to the Supreme Court leading to passing of the judgment that agreed with the view of the MP High Court. It is surprising that the votaries of conversion who seek shelter under the Constitution conveniently sidestep this crucial judgment even though they profess to be the champions of legality and morality. Laughable but dangerous.
2. Statistics proves otherwise
One of the many arguments that are brandished by Christian missionaries and their leaders is that Christian population has remained at around 2.3 per cent of the entire population of the Country over the last many decades and hence there is no sanctity in saying that they have resorted to mass scale conversion. Similar arguments are also professed by followers of Islam as well. However, this could be a macro view but at the micro level there are numerous instances where districts after districts, all across the country has witnessed many fold growth in Christian and Muslim population. The decadal growth figure for 2001-2011, that was released a month back is worrisome to say the least. As against a growth figure of 20.3 per cent in so far as Hindus are concerned the corresponding growth rate of Muslims and Christians have been 29.5 cent and 22.6 per cent respectively. For the first time, the Hindu population in percentage terms has gone below 80 per cent and that of Muslims has gone up by 14.2 per cent. Added to this the rise in Muslim population in many districts of Assam in the last one decade with one estimate indicating that if the trend remains the same in the current decade Assam may well become a Muslim majority State, whether this growth could be attributed to “change of heart” or something ominous needs to be analysed. In so far as the Christian community is concerned many North-Eastern States have seen them to become the majority community in a very short span of time. Same is the situation in various districts all across India, more particularly in the tribal areas. Contrast this with the figures pertaining to Hindus who constituted 84 per cent of the entire population in 1951 and within six decades it has now gone down to 79 per cent. Again, the proponents of this argument revolving around percentage of population seem to be missing the woods for the trees.
3. Debate around and about Conversion being handy work of the Sangh Parivar
Apart from the argument (Right to Convert), another favourite of the votaries of conversion is placing all the blames on the Sangh Parivar for any debate relating to this issue. This is a tactic that is deflective and defamatory. The common refrain is the Sangh whips up frenzy in order to create enmity between communities in order to establish its dominance. Strangely, more often than not the media also buys this argument and due to the widespread coverage that such issues generate, it appeals to the gullible.
Again, like the half truth about the “constitutional right” arguments on this view is also in the same line. Instances are many when State Governments, which had nothing to do with the Sangh have appointed Commissions and promulgated legislation to deal with conversion. The first such instance, post Independence was in 1955 when the Congress Party led MP Govt. appointed a Committee to give a report on Christian Missionary activities headed by a retired Chief Justice M Bhawani Shankar Niyogi which submitted a detailed report recorded that “there was a general complaint from the non-Christian side that the schools and hospitals were being used as means of securing converts”. It is a different story that any reference to this report, now, is derided but the facts are facts. Likewise MP and Odisha enacted legislations in this field way back in the 1960’s when both the States were ruled by the Congress and Swatantra Party. As recently as 2006, Himachal Pradesh ruled by the Congress Party brought such legislation.
At the national level bills were proposed to be introduced in Parliament in 1954, 1960 and 1979 and upon mass conversions of Hindus to Islam in Meenakshipuram in 1981, it was a Congress-led union government that advised all states to enact laws regulating conversions. We all know who was in power in 1954, 1960, 1979 and 1981 at the Centre. Thus, to lay all the blame on the Sangh is not only contrary to facts but is a clear attempt on the part of the votaries of conversion and their supporters, which include the Congress and left parties, to perpetuate wrong information only to appease the minorities and portray the Sangh in bad light. Also, it reflects conversion as an issue has been haunting the country since long and just because Sangh is the only organisation that has been speaking about it, keeping the larger national interest in perspective, it will not be fair to lampoon its views as it is not to the liking of the votaries.
4. The Christian Missionaries impart selfless service and never indulge in conversion
This is another view point that is put forth as a defence to the issue. This became glaring and occupied centre stage all through this week in reference to what Shri Mohan Bhagwat said about the activities carried out by Mother Teresa during one of his speeches. Without verifying if what was said has any sanctity and about its factual correctness, the votaries, including the Congress and “liberals” ganged up to denounce the statement as if it was sacrilegious. However, thanks to the plethora of information that is available in public domain, it can be concluded that Shri Bhagwat was right in what he said. The irony is that all these proponent of “self-less service” forget to talk about a certain Christopher Hitchens who came out with a scathing account of the activities carried out by Missionary of Charities in his book, published in 1995; “Missionary Position; Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice” as also a BBC documentary “Hell’s Angel” in 1994. It is also forgotten that World renowned TIME magazine published a cover story in September 2007 entitled “The Secret life of Mother Teresa” dealing with her activities in not so flowery language. These are only few instances of many such instances that also include receiving funds from dubious sources including dictators and admitting in various interviews that her service was not selfless but to “bring people to Jesus”. So one sided has become the debate on this issue that any reference to such critical work is out rightly rejected leaving no scope of debate or discussion.
If, for a moment we keep aside what Mother Teresa did or did not do, there is ample proof to suggest that “self-less service” is the least of the concern of the Christian Missionaries in India. Post the Tsunami disaster that affected large part of India, Christian Missionaries arrived in droves in the affected area in the name of “self-less service” but the facts remain that the victims of Tsunami became the fertile territory for them to “harvest soul”; a term generally used to legitimise conversion by coercion and undue influence as “change of heart”. Talking about “self-less service” of the missionaries one is reminded of Bishop Desmond Tutu who had once said; “When the Missionaries came to Africa we had the land and they had the Bible. They asked us let us pray and we joined them. When we opened our eyes they had the land and we had the Bible.”
5. We speak for minority rights
This is another of the arguments that the votaries of conversion advance in their desperate attempt to somehow get a veneer of justification for their action. However, this cabal is conspicuous by its silence on the plight of minority Hindus in Pakistan and Bangladesh.
There were 8.8 million Hindus in Pakistan in 1951 and they constituted 22 per cent of the Pakistani population (including present-day Bangladesh). The Hindu population has been reduced to 1.6 per cent of the Pakistani population and face acute social, political and legal discrimination. Hindu minorities living under the influence of the Taliban in Swat, Pakistan, were forced to wear red headgear such as turbans as a symbol of dhimmi (The name applied by the Arab-Muslim Conquerons to indigenous non-Muslim populations who surrendered by a treaty (Dhimma) to Muslim domination.) Forced conversion is rampant in Pakistan. Bangladesh is no exception either. Conversion to Islam through coercion is also rampant. But for their vested interests, these anti-RSS activists have nothing to say. The hypocrisy is evident and it is time even they are exposed.
Sandeep Mahapatra (The writer is a lawyer and activist partner in Juris Corp.)