Religion in the U.N. Declaration

Universal Declaration of Human Rights would recognise not only the right to profess a religion under Article 18(1), but also right to conversion under Article 18(2) as explained by the U.N. Commision  as under:“Article 18.2 bars coercion that would impair the right to have or adopt a religion or belief, including the use of threat of physical force or penal sanctions to compel believers or non-believers to adhere to their religious beliefs and congregations, to recant their religion or belief or to convert."  

Members of the United Nations are committed to follow the above Article, which forms  part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Religion under the Indian Constitution

In the Indian Constitution,  freedom of religion is not merely a right, but it is also a  fundamental right and, therefore,  a basic feature of the Constitution like other fundamental rights.

How is this right reconciled with secularism, another avowed object stipulated by the 42nd Amendment in 1976 to the Constitution? In S.R.Bommai v. Union of India AIR 1994 SC 1918, the Supreme Court referred to the concept of secularism in the words of Justice Sawant as under:

“……religious tolerance and equal treatment of all religious groups and protection of their life and property and of the places of their worship are in essential part of secularism enshrined in our Constitution…..”

All legislations have to conform to the secular character enjoined by the Constitution as decided in M. Ismail Faruqui v. Union of India AIR 1995 SC 630. No step can be taken by the Government either by way of legislation or in any of its activities to adopt  discrimination or favour of any particular religion.

In the case of Sanskrit language, its teaching was found acceptable only where it is an elective language, so as not to affect secularism as was pointed out in Santosh Kumar v. Secretary, Ministry of Human Resources Development (1994) 6 SCC 579.    

Intolerance in practice

Proselytisation including atheist propaganda are  not barred as long as they are intended to be carried on in a peaceful manner. Atheists appeal peacefully to reason, but almost all religions are unable to avoid use of aggression or enticement for conversion.

Soviet Union, though against illegitimate proselytisation, permits the Roman Catholic and Orthodox  churches and tolerates such cults in Christianity like Jehovah’s Witnesses and  Pentacostal church.

Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt, Iran and Maldives have strict laws amounting to imprisonment or even death in some of these countries, who entice Muslims to leave Islam.

But there is no such bar for conversion to Islam. Jihads in Islam and evangelism in Christianity are permitted.  While Jesus Christ himself was a Jew, Jews were hated culminating in holocaust during Hitler’s regime in Germany with unprecedented mass killing of the Jews. 

The Jews consider Israel as the promised land with an on-going war as between Israel and Palestine based on religion.

Hinduism also known as Sanatan Dharma is one of the oldest continuously practised religion without any formal philosophy based more on rituals. It is described as a way of life.  If so, the question of conversion should not arise. 

Every invasion Aryan, Moghal and East India Company have brought mass conversions to the religions of the invaders. However, there has also been mass conversion unaccompanied by invasion to Buddhism at the time of Emperor Ashoka and later by Ambedkar as a protest against the suppression of the dalit community. 

There has been  similar conversions from Hindus to Sikhism, the Sikh Gurus have eschewed force or inducement for conversion. But it too had got organized and even turned violent with Akali movement and Sikhs have suffered mass killing as reprisal for the assassination of Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi.

There have been reformist movements in all religion for example Martin Luther against papal supremacy in Christianity and Narayana Guru in Kerala against Hindu Orthodoxy. Periyar E.V. Ramasamy led a revolt against casteism in Hinduism with his atheistic and iconoclastic philosophy.   

Ominous signs in India

Obscurantism is emerging as Hindutva with expectation of political support from the new Government with movements like Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Bajrang Dal, Sangh Parivar, Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti and Dharma Jagran among others.

There is talk of building Ram Mandir in the demolished site at Ayodhya and of demolishing Taj Mahal, after oddly claiming it to be  a Hindu structure. There are suggestions to have statues for Nathuram Ghotse, the assassin of Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Nation, in whose name Periyar wanted India to be named as “Gandhi Desam”.  Another report claims of conversion of 6 lakhs returning “home” in Madhya Pradesh.

While there is prejudice against inter-caste marriages leading to “honour killing”, inter-religious marriages are branded  as love jihad. Modern women’s dresses are blamed for rape.  Even moderate films against abuse of religion by godmen as in the film P.K. or in books even mildly critical of certain practices draw angry responses prompted by fanaticism.

Vedic aeronautics and vedic surgery besides vedic mathematics now with Prime Minister Modi’s  addition of  plastic surgery are claimed as India’s legacy. Reforms in education are seriously proposing to dispense with English with the taunt  that those with English education  send their parents at their old age away from home by describing this result as “Ghar Bahari” (away from home). (The Times of India dated January 3, 2015).

If conversion from Hinduism is not stopped and reconversion is not ensured, the Moslems and Christians will outnumber Hindu population according to an open message, which  reads as under:

“Our target is to make India a Hindu rashtra by 2021. The Muslims and Christians have no right to stay here, so they would either be converted to Hinduism or forced to run away from here”. (Deccan Chronicle dated 31st December 2014)

Exodus from Hinduism – Why?

An article by Kancha Ilaiah, points out that  it should not be forgotten, that conversion to Islam and Christianity was largely due to naked discrimination, which Hinduism practiced against its lower castes with even the higher castes not redeemed from the oppressive “Manu’s brutal laws”, dogmatic superstitions and caste-bound practices.

There is an interesting sub-editorial by  Jug Suralya in Times of India dated 31st December 2014 on the subject in following words:

“No, the real problem with the so-called `ghar wapsi’ campaign is that many of those whom the Parivar is urging to come wapsi-ing back to their ghar didn’t belong to the ghar in the first place, which makes it difficult, semantically at least, for them to come back to it.

For a lot of people being targeted for “reconversion” by the Parivar belong to tribal communities, which by and large were animists and did not belong to the Hindu fold.

Indeed, as the story of Eklavya in the Mahabharata shows, tribals were given short shrift by mainstream Hinduism with its caste hierarchy: Eklavya, a tribal, is made to cut off his thumb and give it to Dronacharya as guru-dakshina because Dronacharya fears that his “low-born” pupil will outdo the “high-born” Arjuna in archery.

Tribals apart, many of those being “reconverted” are dalits who, if anything, have been even more badly treated than tribals by casteist Hinduism, which looked down on them as being “untouchables”, literally and metaphorically. It was this enforced “untouchability” which impelled many dalits to embrace religions like Buddhism. 

How can those who were considered outcasts – or “out-castes” – be brought back to a Hinduism which excluded them to begin with?”.     

Recent Reports

The Times of India dated December 23, 2014 runs several columns with incidents under the title “Christian conversions fuel tension” from a report from Agra and other places. A Kerala report from Thiruvananthapuram admits conversion, but claims that no pressure had been used for conversion  from   Christianism to Hinduism.

Agitation in Rajya Sabha did not invoke any positive response  from the Government in respect of conversion row. A  report says that the Centre washes its hands for the time being on the issue in a headline.  Certainly Government cannot be indifferent.

Ms. Suchi Govindarajan in a write up asks among others the following questions: “Rumour has it that a Christian convert gets Rs. 2 lakh and a Muslim convert gets Rs. 5 lakh.

As the organiser, do I get any holy commission in this? What is the going rate for atheists, pastafarians and aliens who don’t look like Aamir Khan?”. She comes out with astonishing news that Savarkar, the forerunner of the Hindu ideology was an atheist and totally against caste system.

Conversion of 600 dalits to Islam in Meenakshipuram, a hamlet in Southern India in 1975, had led to  the ire of conservative  Hindus has come to stay, reports the change in following words:

“An old dalit I met in Meenakshipuram told me how he once had to vacate his seat in a village bus for a 10-year old Thevar boy, addressing him respectfully. But after he converted to Islam, he didn’t have to do that and he is addressed respectfully  as `bhai` says A.Sivasubramanian, a Tamil teacher and writer of folklore based in Tuticorin.

A chapter in his book “Pillaiyar Arasiyal” (politicizing the deity Vinayaka) is devoted to the Meenakshipuram conversions.  “They may not have seen great economic change in their lives because they lost the right to reservation in education and jobs but, they are happy with their new social status and cultural freedom” says Sivasubramanian.” (The Times of India dated 4th January 2015)

It also records a statement of a convert as under:

“As the sun sets over Mekkarai, Sardar Mohammed, 70, sits proud in his stone and concrete home. He built it about two decades ago. As a dalit, he was permitted only to build a thatched hut”.

If the Hindus want to stop the exodus from their religion, they must think of reform to eschew casteism.

“Ghar Wapsi” meaning “Returning Home” is the new movement to welcome the progeny of  Muslims and Christian  forefathers to welcome back to the Hindu fold.  

Indifference of the Government

Response from the Government on matters of conversion, which is the subject of numerous reports and editorials from national papers, has been extremely lukewarm. Union Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu responding to the information about any proposed conversion law said “Bringing an anti-conversion law is not the priority of the Government and it isn’t thinking of bringing an anti-conversion law unilaterally”.

Prime Minister has expressed annoyance by steering clear of controversy. He is reported to have issued instructions not to raise the issue embarrassing the Government, but Praveen Togadia, National Secretary to VHP has denied receipt of any such instruction.

Meanwhile, the conversion issue has been taken up to National Human Right Commission which has now called for reports from whenever such complaints have been voiced (Deccan Chronicle dated 31st December 2014).

Deccan Chronicle on even date highlights Government attitude under the headline “Government: nothing to do with conversion”, while it also carries a report from Shiv Sena that “there is nothing wrong with reverse conversions” blaming those who kept mum, when they were converted from Hinduism though such conversions are several centuries old.

In the Punjab, the news of 40 Christians have been converted to Sikhism (The Times of India dated 31st December 2014) is applauded with the comment that the Sikhs and Buddhists are part of Hindu fold.

But the same report records the statements of some converts that it was prompted by extreme poverty with house rent in arrears and that they had been instructed not to talk to the Press.

Togadia, VHP National General Secretary would support “ghar wapsi” as uniting the people bringing them under the national stream, while wanting a legislation to bar conversion. Apparently he wants such conversion to be one way traffic as is evident from a report on December 30, 2014 in Deccan Chronicle.

But Prime Minister Mody has tried to keep conversion enthusiasts on leash as for example by sending away Rajeshwar Singh, a leader from R.S.S., but the hard core reacts with a chant that the policy of appeasement  of former Governments must be reversed “If not now, never” is their slogan.

Bhagwat. RSS Chief, is reported to have been reconciled to the policy of the Prime Minister Mody, but assures that it will continue to work for unity of all Hindus (The Times of India dated January 5, 2014). M. Ramachandran, VHP President in Kerala has timed his statement to continue  VHP programme at the meetings of its trustees at Hyderabad while SJR Kumar has announced that 250 persons have registered for conversion in Kerala (January 3, 2015, The Times of India).

A judicial hurdle for conversion

Are the conversion enthusiasts aware of the Supreme Court decision in  a successful  case in favour of Ms. Chandra, an ADMK ticket holder? Her election result was questioned by claiming her conversion from Christianity by Arya Samaj rites as invalid, but found by the Supreme Court that the Pallar community organization accepted her as a Hindu, so that conversion according to this judgement requires acceptance of the caste to which the convert will belong.

The judgement was delivered in 2011 by Justice M.L.Dattu, now Chief Justice  of  India. It, therefore, follows that the approval of the caste organization for conversion in any particular caste is a pre-condition for conversion to Hinduism.

Periyar solution and future policies

Amidst the mounting ternsion, Periyar’s philosophy  is becoming more relevant than it ever was, when he wanted among his other principles, the discarding of religion itself by preaching atheism. If not, the next best policy is for religions to drop their brand images, so that there is no need for inter-religious strife.

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