The Hypocrisy in the Debate on Conversions
This article originally appeared in centreright.in. CRI content has now been subsumed in swarajyamag.com. The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the editors of swarajyamag.com

In my last post on fraudulent conversions, I had explored the utility and practicality of using international conventions and covenants to strike a balance between the right to propagate one’s faith and the rights of indigenous people to protect their cultures. In this post, the object is to address to a few other aspects of the issue which expose the double-speak of the Leftist clique.

Are We Asking for Blanket Bans on Conversion?

No. Not at all. It is not even our position that a blanket ban on conversions must be imposed. Not only would that position be unreasonable, it would also prevent people who wish to join or return to the Hindu fold from converting or reconverting, as the case may be. I am sure this statement is bound to evoke extreme reactions, but then why should conversion or reconversion to Hinduism be such a politically incorrect issue to discuss? Why shouldn’t conversion be a two-way street? Is that an unfair expectation? I don’t think so.

Every time the issue of conversion to Hinduism is broached, self-styled experts on Hindu rituals are only too eager to tell us that Hinduism does not recognize or provide for conversion. Even if this were true, which I don’t think is the case, I am surprised that the absence of a missionary spirit or zeal in Hinduism or among Hindus is rarely given due credit, while no opportunity is spared to highlight the “evils of Hinduism”. Hypocrisy much? I’d say so.

Let’s assume for a moment that Hinduism does not have a procedure or ritual for conversion, what stops us from evolving one? If this introspective and forward-looking community has discarded several of its closely held practices to give way for reform and reason, why should it not evolve rituals to preserve its heritage? Would that be against the tenets of Hinduism, or would that be the first instance of a non-proselytizing religion evolving a procedure for conversion? Clearly, the answer is in the negative for both. After all, missionary work is not associated with Judaism either, but hasn’t it evolved a ritual for it over time? In contrast to the object of Christian missionaries which is to increase their numbers, the purpose of conversion in the context of Hindus and Jews is plain and simple self-preservation, which is a just and legitimate object.

As for the existence of such a procedure in Hinduism, “shuddhikaran” has been in vogue for quite some time now, thanks to the pioneering efforts of Swami Shraddhanand, who, predictably, was assassinated in 1926 for his efforts to re-convert the Malkana Rajputs of UP from Islam to Hinduism.

The Charge of “Assimilative Communalism” Against Hindus

The carefully cultivated perception about missionary work is that they are the only ones who take the pains to reach out to tribals in inaccessible terrain, and provide them with medical aid, education and other basic amenities. This, we are told, are selfless acts of charity, piety and munificence, with no underlying religious agenda or vested interest.

On the other hand, when organizations like Ekal Vidyalays and Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram undertake similar efforts and that too on a greater scale, leftist mouthpieces like The Hindu jump on these efforts, as if Mr.Narsimhan Ram is sitting on a cushion of pins, to paint these efforts as part of some diabolical “Saffronising Agenda” (I think Mr.Ram should seriously consider changing the name of the paper to “The Anti-Hindu”). We are told by these mouthpieces that such efforts are proof of “assimilative communalism”. In other words, it is apparently communal to remind the tribals of their roots and assimilating them into the mainstream, but somehow it is not communal to fraudulently convert them into Abrahamic faiths and teach them to despise their roots and erstwhile co-religionists.

Look at the Catch 22 position they push Hindus into. If you don’t reach out to tribals, you are guilty of neglecting them, and therefore it becomes legitimate for Missionaries to convert them and teach them to hate their roots. If you do reach out to tribals, you are guilty of “assimilative communalism”.

I ask myself, how is it not “assimilative communalism” when you cloak the Virgin Mary with a saree with a red border, or depict Her holding a baby which resembles Lord Ganesha (check out this Facebook hyperlink which a reader of CRI, Mr.Raj Kashyap, was kind enough to share), to induce tribals and Hindus into believing that their religious icons are somehow connected to Christianity? Doesn’t the fact that tribals and their way of life have continued to co-exist peacefully and undisturbed alongside mainstream Hinduism prove that we are inherently capable of respecting their indigenous beliefs? Can the same be said of the work of missionaries which has only created situations like “Nagaland for Christ”? Do Hindu places of worship in tribal areas wield the kind of power that the Church in the North-east does over political issues?

I think we all know the answers to these questions. It’s just that we don’t seem to take these issues seriously enough to figuratively hold some of these Leftist airheads by the scruff of their collars on prime time television, and ask them a few uncomfortable questions. Besides, our fundamental inability to coalesce as a unit, as a community, never fails to make its nasty presence felt in situations like these, and for which the blame lies solely at our doors.

Do we have Indian laws which serve as basic templates to chart a Way Forward?

Yes we do. These days, since the Left is busy singing paeans and psalms in praise of Shri Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s administrative capabilities, his humility and secular credentials, I am assuming they also endorse the continued existence of Madhya Pradesh Religious Freedom Act, 1968, also known as Madhya Pradesh Dharma Swatantrya Adhiniyam, 1968.

When the constitutional validity of this legislation (and the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act 1967) was challenged by…wait for it…Reverend Stainislaus, and the matter ultimately reached the Supreme Court, the legislation’s validity was upheld by the Apex Court on grounds that the MP government had the right to legislate on issues which have a bearing on “Public Order”.

Since the legislation prohibited conversion by fraud, allurement or force, it was not in violation of the “freedom of conscience” guaranteed by Article 25(1) of the Constitution. Further, since these proscribed acts have a bearing on “public order”, the State has a right to intervene and legislate. Following were the clear and categorical observations of the Supreme Court:

Reference may also be made to the decision in Ramjilal Modi v. State of U.P. where this Court has held that the right of freedom religion guaranteed by Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution is expressly made subject to public order, morality and health, and that “it cannot be predicated that freedom of religion can have no bearing whatever on the maintenance of public order or that a law creating an offence relating to religion cannot under any circumstances be said to have been enacted in the interests of public order”.

It has been held that these two Articles in terms contemplate that restrictions may be imposed on the rights guaranteed by them in the interests of public order. Reference may as well be made to the decision in Arun Ghosh v. State of WeSt Bengal (a) where it has been held that if a thing disturbs the current of the life of the community, and does not merely affect an individual, it would amount to disturbance of the public order.

Thus if an attempt is made to raise communal passions, e.g. on the ground that someone has been “forcibly” converted to another religion, it would, in all probability, give rise to an apprehension of a breach of the public order, affecting the community at large. The impugned Acts therefore fall within: the purview of Entry I of List II of the Seventh Schedule as they are meant to avoid disturbances to the public order by prohibiting conversion from one religion to another in a manner reprehensible to the conscience of the community. The two Acts do not provide for the regulation of religion and we do not find any justification for the argument that they fall under Entry 97 of List I of the Seventh Schedule.”

Critically, following was the ruling of the Court on the distinction between “right to propagate”, and the “right to convert”:

Counsel for the appellant has argued that the right to ‘propagate’ one’s religion means the right to convert a person to one’s own religion. On that basis, counsel has argued further that the right to convert a person to one’s own religion is a fundamental right guaranteed by Article 25 (1) of the Constitution.

The expression ‘propagate’ has a number of meanings, including “to multiply specimens of (a plant, animal, disease etc.) by any process of natural reproduction from the parent stock”, but that cannot, for obvious reasons, be the meaning for purposes of Article 25 (1) of the Constitution. The Article guarantees a right to freedom of religion, and the expression ‘propagate’ cannot therefore be said to have been used in a biological sense. The expression ‘propagate’ has been defined in the Shorter Oxford Dictionary to mean “to spread from person to person, or from place to place, to disseminate, diffuse (a statement, belief, practice, etc.)” According to the Century Dictionary (which is an Encylopaedic Lexicon of the English Language) Vol. VI, ‘propagate’ means as follows:–

“To transmit or spread from person to person or from place to place; carry forward or onward; diffuse; extend; as propagate a report; to propagate the Christian religion”.

We have no doubt that it is in this sense. that the word ‘propagate’ has been used in Article 25 (1), for what the Article grants is not the right to convert another person to one’s own religion, but to transmit or spread one’s religion by an exposition of its tenets.

It has to be remembered that Article 25 (1) guarantees “freedom of conscience” to every citizen, and not merely to the followers of one particular religion, and that, in turn, postulates that there is no fundamental right to convert another person to one’s own religion because if a person purposely undertakes the conversion of another person to his religion, as distinguished from his effort to transmit or spread the tenets of his religion, that would impinge on the “freedom of conscience” guaranteed to all the citizens of the country alike.

Golden words from the Supreme Court I say!

In 2009, certain amendments proposed to this law were turned down by the UPA Government, but that’s a discussion for another post later. The point is we do have a template, and if we could use international conventions to comprehensively address the issue of duplicitous conversions, it would be a positive way forward. We welcome suggestions and opinions in this regard from our readers.