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Posted Online on Thursday, 18 May 2006 06:35 IST

Muslim Islamic NewsAnti-Conversion bill: yet another challenge to the Constitution

By Dominic Emmanuel

The Milli Gazette Online

18 May 2006

Will Vasundhara Raje have to wait for a poll debacle to withdraw the recently passed “Freedom of Religion Bill 2006”, as Jayalalitha did after the drubbing she and her party received during the 2004 Lok Sabha elections? Well! Since Rajasthan has less than 1 percent Christian population, at whom, according to Home Minister Gulab Singh Kataria, the architect of the Bill, is aimed, “it was needed to check the activities of Christian missionaries in certain parts of the State, especially in Kota”, there is little chance that there will be any alteration to it.

 

Gujarat, also BJP governed, is another State which passed such an unconstitutional law earning Narender Modi among other things, the singular distinction of being ‘a modern day Nero’, from no less an institution than the Supreme Court. That the Gujarat government has not yet framed rules for the said Bill or that so far no case either in Madhya Pradesh, Orissa or Arunachal Pradesh of ‘forceful conversion’ or ‘conversion by allurement or fraudulent means’ has come to light, is not really the concern of BJP governments. It is enough that such Bills and Acts, come handy to terrorize the minorities in general and the Christian missionaries in particular, who are rendering selfless service to the most neglected people in remote areas. It is also a useful tool to justify the actions of the likes of Dara Singh. False allegations in the name of ‘conversion’ serve many purposes.

 

In Rajasthan the Freedom of Religion Bill was spoken of ever since the BJP government came to power in 2004 but it caught momentum after the President of a certain Emmanuel Mission International (EMI), Bishop Samuel Thomas was arrested from NOIDA last month along with an arrest warrant issued against his father Archbishop M. A. Thomas, the founder of EMI. Both of them are being held responsible for propagating a book called Haqueekat, which allegedly contains material denigrating the Hindu religion, though neither of them has either written or published the book. Though we have not seen or read the book, we have, including me as the spokesperson of the Delhi Catholic Archdiocese, condemned in public, all such material containing insulting references to other religions or their believers.

 

There are also hundreds of booklets and pamphlets in circulation all over, particularly in North India, a bundle of which I have personally handed over both to the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the then Home Minister Mr. L. K. Advani making highly derogatory remarks against the Bible and Christianity. But is anyone, especially those working overtime to introduce such Bills, bothered about their plight?

 

On the one hand, we have the Sensex and the Nifty scaling new heights, in the BJP ruled States, on the other hand, such retrograde laws are being passed, targeting openly one particular Community. The Bill is so ludicrous and contradictory, to say the least, that it allows people to go back to their ‘original religion’, without attracting any punitive action. 

 

Even if no one wants to listen to the constant shrill of the Christian Community in despair that it is not involved in any ‘mass conversion’, people are urged to believe at least the official Census of India showing a clear decline of Christian population in the last four decades, down from 2.6% to being just 2.3% at the last count.

 

But how does one convince a completely biased lot which is not only totally closed to see the ‘truth’ but which keeps harping on the two constant refrains against minorities, that of ‘minority appeasement’ (now riding on Advani’s Rath) and that of ‘mass conversion’ (on Rajnath’s Rath). That the Hindu voter, however, has become much wiser than those hardliners who get such draconian bills passed, has been proved by the result of the last elections and the poor attendance right now at the two Rath Yatras. 

 

It was in order to boost the attendance around the Raths that the new BJP President Rajnath Singh lashed out at the Christian missionaries in Chattisgarh boasting, “as soon as I became the BJP President, I told all my party chief ministers to enact laws to check conversions and foil the designs of Christian missionaries”. He then went on to say that the Jharkhand government was ready with the draft bill and Chattisgarh will soon follow suit. He had no hesitation in spewing venom at the Christian missionaries in the area. Both for Rajnath and Advani, and of course the Sangh Parivar, this is what democracy is all about.

 

The Catholic Church has clarified its position on conversion time and again as well as in the documents of the Second Vatican Council, stating, “In spreading religious faith… everyone ought at all times to refrain from any manner of action which might seem to carry a hint of coercion or of a kind of persuasion that would be dishonourable or unworthy, especially when dealing with poor or uneducated people. Such a manner of action would have to be considered an abuse of one’s own right and a violation of the right of others” (cf. Declaration on Religious Freedom: no. 4. Vatican: 1965).

 

Similarly Pope Benedict XVI in his recent and first encyclical Deus Caritas Est reiterates, “Christian charitable activity must be independent of parties and ideologies. It is not a means of changing the world ideologically… Charity, furthermore, cannot be used as a means of engaging in what is nowadays considered proselytism. Love is free; it is not practiced as a way of achieving other ends” no. 31. b & c).

 

Such laws go against the very spirit of Article 25 of the Constitution which grants, “freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion” to every Indian citizen and Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which India is a signatory, stating, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion: this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice and worship and observance”.

 

Among the many painful experiences for Christians in the context of ‘conversion’ there are two important ones. One, that those who do not understand the commandment of Jesus to “love one another as I have loved you” (John 15: 12) and “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers (sisters) that you do unto me” (Mt. 25: 40) completely misunderstand their motive for acts of love. Two, that millions who have passed through the Christian educational as well as other institutions and who were never once given so much as a hint to convert to Christianity, never stand up in their defense. The Archbishop Vincent M. Concessao of Delhi, however, holds, “Nobody really believes their lies against Christians and everyone is actually tired of them. Most people know that it is only a political game to be played and contested in the political arena”. [05.05.06]

 

Fr Dr Dominic Emmanuel  is spokesman of the Delhi Catholic Archdiocese. He may be contacted at frdominic@gmail.com 

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