Conversions and Reconversions


By Eduardo Faleiro

In a rather belated reaction to the ghar wapsi programme and demolition of churches in New Delhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated recently that his government would not tolerate violence against any religion. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad was quick to retort that the Prime Minister’s speech was in no way an assurance to the minorities and that ghar wapsi would continue.

An advertisement issued by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting on the Republic Day quoted the Preamble of the Constitution and deleted from it the words “socialist” and “secular”. The advertisement was not by accident. Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad made it known that the government wanted to delete “secularism” from the Preamble of the Constitution. The Supreme Court, however, has held in several cases that “secularism is a part of the basic structure of the Constitution and the Preamble is a part of the provisions of the Constitution… The power to amend the Constitution does not enable Parliament to amend the basic structure of the Constitution and secularism being part of the basic structure is non-amendable”.

Since the BJP government came to power, communal violence and inflammatory pronouncements about different religious groups moved to centre stage of Indian politics. It is a strategy to divide the nation on religious lines for political gains.    

The Hindutva agenda being pursued by the BJP government is opposed by Hindu religious leaders. Prominent leaders and seers from Ayodhya have on several occasions demanded a ban on the VHP for misusing religious issues for political gains and for encouraging lawlessness and terrorism in the country. Swami Agnivesh, President of the World Council of the Arya Samaj writes “Hindutva is Hinduism’s internal enemy. In its origin and spirit, Hindutva is an atheistic ideology. It derives its inspiration not from Ram, Shiva or Krishna but from Hitler and Mussolini. Hindutva is pseudo Hinduism. It can triumph only by hijacking and degrading our religion… Hindutva is essentially religious terrorism. Its language and strategies belong to the world of terrorism, not religion or spirituality. Bullying helpless people, murdering innocent women and children, intimidating dissent, committing rape, arson and loot are what we expect from terrorists and not from religious people… saving a religious tradition from the corrupting stranglehold of communalism is a greater and more urgent need than defending a religion from its alleged external enemies. Hinduism stayed safe and steady despite every imaginable threat from outsiders but this is the first time it is facing an organized and determined attack from within. When enemies put up the mask of saviours there is need to wake up and resist them”.

Whilst freedom of religion is a basic human right, proselytism receives universal condemnation. Proselytism is defined as the use of unscrupulous methods of persuasion such as material inducements, psychological pressure or spiritual threats to compel a person to change his or her religion. Proselytism is opposed on several grounds. It attacks other religious beliefs and practices and proclaims that its own religion is the only way to salvation. It is often supported by financial resources and marketing techniques that make local religions seem second rate and inferior.

Mainline Christian theologians disapprove of organised conversions, favour religious dialogue and express the need to study other religions such as Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and even tribal faiths so that Christianity may learn from their many valuable insights. Indian missionaries of all denominations interested in conversions and reconversions should be motivated to settle in the United States and in Europe.  In those nations, the number of Christian priests as well as of other religions is decreasing and there is a sharp decline in religiosity. Several neo-Hindu religious movements such as ISKCON, International Association of Shri Satya Sai Baba, Brahma Kumaris and Shri Ramakrishna Mission have a significant following in those countries. India should outsource religious services to the West. Islamic and Hindu fundamentalisms are sometimes understood as a reaction, although an extreme reaction, against unchecked westernisation of cultural patterns and behaviour. Many fundamentalists perceive their struggle in terms of preserving their religious and traditional identity, in terms of recovering their self respect and the dignity of their lifestyles.

At the Asian Synod, Asian Bishops called for “divesting the Western image of the Church in the liturgy and style of life”. The Catholic Bishops Conference of India at its general meeting in Kolkata in 1974 declared: “The Church in India must realize her genuine Indian identity and rid herself of the slur of being foreign which clings to her because of leaning too heavily on foreign support and the style adopted by some of the Christian communities. The Church will realize her Indian identity by adapting herself to the conditions prevailing in the country and developing an indigenous theology.” Such statements are repeated but implementation is rather slow in some dioceses.

Freedom of religion enjoins the responsibility to respect faiths other than our own and never to denigrate, vilify or disrespect other religions. People of India must work diligently towards interfaith unity and a nation founded on secularism and religious inclusion. It is a fundamental duty of every citizen to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood among all the people of India, transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectional diversities.

The writer is a former Union minister

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 March 2015 on page no. 11

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