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  Are Forced Religious Conversions Unlawful?  



By Gopal Alankar, Ph.D., USA
December 23, 2002

The article "Church refers anti-conversion bill to US religious commission" by George Iype (India Abroad, December 6, 2002) brings into sharp focus the relevance of "forced religious conversions" within the context of "freedom of faith". The title is misleading though. It should have had "forced conversion" inserted in it.

By seeking the help of US religious commission the bill has now become an issue of national importance and its resolution will have far reaching ramifications on the religious behavior of Muslim and Christian clergy in India. Furthermore, by raising the issue with US religious commission, the Catholic Church in India had elevated it to an international level making it imperative for the constitutional experts and academicians to debate and form an opinion on it. It is sad that minorities in India, often than not, ignore the Indian Judicial system but seek American help as if America has the cure-all for all maladies.

By approaching the US religious commission, the Catholic Church has implicitly but honestly declared that forced conversions do exist in India and it is their intent to continue the age-old practice. It has also an implicit implication that all conversions whether forced or unforced have the sanction of the Church. This stance makes it a complex issue and it raises several pertinent questions for honest and unbiased answers.

  1. How does one define forced conversions? Does India suffer from these?
  2. Do forced conversions violate the freedom of faith guaranteed by Indian Constitution?
  3. What impact do the forced conversions have on a nation? Is it serious enough to bring in legislation to curb them?

Forced conversion is a grossly misunderstood term. The majority of Indians consider it "forced" only if it involves physical force. Therefore, they are willing to accept forced conversions as long as such conversions do not involve physical force or mental fear. But this is a faulty reasoning. A conversion brought about by monetary inducement or promise of divine rewards also falls within the definition of forced conversion. Christian Churches in India promise free education and material comforts to all the converts. At times they even throw in the incentive of free Western education. But more potent is their preaching that only Christians can go to heaven (refer to Yesudas interview in India Abroad, November 8,2002) and followers of all other faiths will end up in Hell.

Islam has a slightly different approach. They play a different chord. They guarantee a free passage to heaven to all those who visit Mecca. This has the advantage of not only filling in the Saudi coffers but also increasing the inflow for conversion. They spruce it up by throwing in an extra incentive for speedy passage - an incentive of Jihad and infidel killings. These killings if they form the basic tenets of Islam, violate the "Freedom of Faith" and such conversions should be legally debarred.

Forced conversions have existed in pre-independence days under the British Rule and they grew in strength in the democratic India under the garb of "Freedom of Faith". The harsh reality is that forced conversions run in all the families. We all thrust our religious beliefs on our children and twist them into following our faith. Therefore, it is na´ve to believe that an individual's fundamental right for "freedom of faith" is duly exercised in a country that guarantees freedom of faith. An intuitive mind will tell us that "freedom" and "force" do not go together and forced conversions do violate the constitutional guarantee of freedom of faith.

To an agnostic mind to which I subscribe, religious conversions of any sort are superfluous. But if such conversions have an ulterior motive of disintegrating a nation on religious lines, then legislation to prevent forced conversions is in the right direction. There is ample evidence to lend credence to this belief. One example is a letter from an American Kerala youth published in India Abroad a few years ago which supported the creation of a Christian Nation from India comprising of Northeast provinces and Kerala. Another example is Pope's openness in advocating conversions and more Catholic children while the Christian tribes in Northeast India are waging an incessant war for a Christian State.

Conversions that have a hidden design to bring about disintegration of a nation must be stopped through not muscle but legislation. This is the decent thing that any democratic nation on the face of the earth can do.

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