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
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.
- How does one define forced conversions? Does India suffer from these?
- Do forced conversions violate the freedom of faith guaranteed by Indian
- 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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