The Conversion Agenda

"Freedom to convert" is counterproductive as a generalized doctrine. It fails to come to terms with the complex interrelationships between self and society that make the concept of individual choice meaningful. Hence, religious conversion undermines, and in extremes would dissolve, that individual autonomy and human freedom.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Conversion confusion

B. S. Raghavan

THE fury of the Church leaders all over the country directed at the Tamil Nadu ordinance against religious conversions by allurement, inducement, or coercion is not in consonance with the sobriety and restraint usually associated with members of that faith. Some Archbishops have issued threats of closing educational institutions run by them. In Christian circles, with many Muslim leaders joining them, the legislation is condemned for being as draconian as POTA. A well-orchestrated vilificatory campaign is going on damning Ms Jayalalithaa as anti-minorities, and imputing to her all sorts of motives, including capitulation to Hindutva and propitiation of the BJP for her own personal ends.

The outcry engineered by Christian community leaders, with Muslim support, is exactly similar to the one following the law of erstwhile Travancore State on temple entry. At that time, the Archbishop of Canterbury lambasted it as a deliberate roadblock set up against conversions of the untouchables to the Church. Likewise, when during a debate on the activities of Christian missionaries in 1954, the Home Minister, Kailash Nath Katju, made it clear that missionaries coming to India only for evangelical work had better stay home, there was a synthetic furore from the Church leaders. Jawaharlal Nehru (than whom it is hard to imagine a more fervent secularist) asked Maulana Abul Kalam Azad to tell off Cardinal Gracias that that while conversion by an individual out of deep conviction was unexceptionable, there was no room for mass conversions of the kind indulged in by missionaries by inducement and alienation and that Katju had only expressed a `sensible view''.

Persons in public life who have no political or religious axe to grind have been pointing out that the ordinance is not born out of a sudden machination by Ms Jayalalithaa, that similar laws have been in existence for 30 years or more in Arunachal Pradesh, Mahya Pradesh and Orissa and that, when the Madhya Pradesh law was challenged before the Supreme Court on a variety of plausible and far-fetched grounds, it unambiguously upheld in memorable words its Constitutional sanction, nailing once for all the argument that propagation extended to proselytisation.

All this is now old hat. There are some little-known facts which should make the sponsors of the unseemly protest pause and ponder. Israel passed in mid-1970s a much more stringent law under which conversions by adopting the same methods as mentioned in the Tamil Nadu ordinance are punishable with five years rigorous imprisonment. Saying that all foreign missionaries were "at heart imperialistic and colonialists'' who "did harm to China'', the then Prime Minister, Chou-en-lai, at one go expelled the whole lot of them. Our Christian fathers will admit that the leading democracy of the world and votary of human rights, the US, has found nothing reprehensible in either course of action.

Let us turn to India. Everyone accepts the impeccable secular credentials of Gandhi, right? Here are a few quotations from his mouthpiece, The Harijan: "Christian workers do harm to us. They do harm to those amongst whom they work and those amongst whom they do not work, that is, harm is done to the whole of Bharat... This proselytisation means no peace in the world. Conversions are harmful to India. If I had the power and could legislate, I certainly should stop all proselytising.'' And what does J. C. Kumarappa, Gandhi's famous disciple, himself a faithful Christian, say? "Western nations have four arms: The Army, the Navy, the Air Force and the church...Before these Christian missionaries landed in Africa, the Africans had their land, but not the Bible. Now they have the Bible, and not their land!''

The reports of the Niyogi Commission (1956) with regard to Madhya Pradesh and the Venugopal Commission (1982) to go into the Mandaikkadu disturbances in Tamil Nadu — incidentally the former had a respected Christian member and the latter was headed by a self-professed atheist and Dravida cult sympathiser — had both documented the objectionable activities of the Christian missionaries and urged legislation to curb them. In fact, the Tamil Nadu Government has acted on Venugopal Commission's recommendation after a delay of 20 years.

Those who want to know further about the might of the church and its plans, including conversions, may visit www.bethany.com/profile/c india.html and read Laura Kelly's book, Conversions in India — A Geopolitical Time Bomb. As of 1989, the church had four million full time workers, 250,000 foreign missionaries and 2000 radio and TV stations worldwide, spending $145 billion on its activities.

The Tamil Nadu Government's case is going by default for want of a carefully argued presentation, with the result wilful mischief-makers are having a field day.

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