“Article 25, which guarantees the freedom of religion, is by no means a blank cheque to missionaries and clerics to use money and deceitful means to convert poor, illiterate victims of a feudal social order. It is not the RSS but the Nehru government that appointed the Niyogi Commission in 1954, after detailed investigation and the testimony of a large number of witnesses, reaching the conclusion that Christian missionaries were subverting India’s secular democracy by using foul means to convert poor tribals.” – Prof Rakesh Sinha
The recent events of Ghar Wapsi and their concomitant endorsement by RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat have led to predictable breast-beating by the ‘secularist’ brigade, both in and out of Parliament. Two interesting arguments—hype, actually—have been advanced to attack Bhagwat. One, this is an ‘onslaught of secularism’ and second, an effort to derail PM Narendra Modi’s developmental agenda. The beauty of democracy lies in debate, irrespective of agreement or disagreement. But secularists are given to thwart debate while raising noise. All too often, debate degenerates into polemical arguments and counter-arguments. The same has happened over the issue of conversion and Ghar Wapsi.
The narrative of Ghar Wapsi is not a counter or reconversion. It is a cultural ratification of a person or group that had been converted to another faith as a part of demographic conquest. The right to conversion is no mere democratic right; it is more than that, deeply related to human conscience. In his spiritual quest, an individual can choose any mode of worship that satisfies him the most, or can even initiate his own new sect and spiritual philosophy. It is this fundamental that forms the core of Indian civilisation and culture. Our worldview is not determined by the Constitution. Rather, the Constitution reflects our spiritual philosophy and is merely the legal endorsement of it in the modern context.
Does our freedom of religion emanate from Article 25 of the Constitution or because of our genetically imbibed philosophy of spiritual democracy? Article 25, which guarantees the freedom of religion, is by no means a blank cheque to missionaries and clerics to use money and deceitful means to convert poor, illiterate victims of a feudal social order. It is not the RSS but the Nehru government that appointed the B. S. Niyogi Commission in 1954, after detailed investigation and the testimony of a large number of witnesses, reaching the conclusion that Christian missionaries were subverting India’s secular democracy by using foul means to convert poor tribals. This small but dominant community with powerful international support forced Nehru to be defensive. All in the name of secularism.
Kerala’s first Communist government under Namboodiripad introduced a new education system, which the Catholics confronted, abusing the government as “anti-Christian”. This led veteran Marxist B. T. Ranadive to quip “Catholics are the part of the world reaction”.
On December 2, 1978, O. P. Tyagi presented an anti-conversion bill in the Lok Sabha during the Janata regime. The bill stipulated that no person shall convert or attempt to convert, either directly or otherwise, any person from one religious faith to another by the use of force, inducement, deceit or any fraudulent means nor shall any person abet any such conversion. Those contravening the provisions in Section 3 would be punishable without prejudice to any civil liability, with imprisonment or fine.
And who was in the forefront of opposing this bill? Mother Teresa, supported by Christians in an all-India agitation, even writing to then PM Morarji Desai on March 25, 1979. Desai refuted her allegations to state, “If charity and philanthropy is not connected with an ulterior motive, they are beneficial. But charity and conversions cannot go together. Religion prospers only when charity and philanthropy are undertaken without any motive. The Bill you have mentioned does not affect adversely the propagation of religion. In fact, the Bill is an attempt to see that the poor and illiterate may enjoy religious freedom without fear.”
Much earlier, it was Mahatma Gandhi who first initiated the narrative of Ghar Wapsi when he appealed to his eldest son Harilal Gandhi, who converted to Islam, to return to Hinduism. Harilal’s two habits, wrote Gandhi in Harijan, drinking and visiting houses of ill-repute, led him to be indebted to Pathans who blackmailed him and later converted him to Islam. It was no change of heart, said Gandhi, but the use of foul means. Bhagwat’s appeal is to thousands of Harilals, victims of petrodollars and the Vatican’s mission of religious imperialism to return to their original faith.
As far as the PM’s developmental agenda is concerned, no contrived debate can thwart it. Who can be more aware than Modi himself, how the secular cabal for more than a decade attempted to crucify him for no sin committed? An anti-conversion law is a prerequisite to protect the sanctity of Article 25 and quash any attempts at demographic engineering. – The New Indian Express, 28 December 2014
» Rakesh Sinha is an Associate Professor at Delhi University and Hony. Director of India Policy Foundation. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org