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 Row

By Free Press Journal (India)

Has anyone - and 'anyone' includes the ?secularists? among Hindus as well, ever tried to understand the Hindu psyche? Or is it considered a wholly unnecessary exercise? Consider this: Unlike Christian missionaries, Hindus have never been aggressive. Hindu missionaries have not gone to Portugal or Spain or Italy, sword in hand, to convert the pagans. Hindu missionaries don't have blood on their hands as have Christian missionaries from Europe. True, the earliest Christian missionary like St. Thomas did come to India and made some converts. But it is palpably wrong to say that Christian missionaries have been working at conversion in India for two thousand years. That is simply not true. Yes, Portuguese Jesuits did come to India in the sixteenth century and for some decades wreaked untold havoc among the Hindus of Goa. But it took another three centuries before Christian missionaries from Britain and with them Christian missionaries from Germany and Switzerland set foot on Indian soil.

The British missionaries may have spread the Good Word; but their primary purpose was imperialistic. It was to provide the underpinnings to British sovereignty over India. Saving Indian souls was of secondary consideration. That is the simple truth.
The manner in which Britishers riled against Hinduism and against Hindu culture is all on record. It does not need to be repeated here. The bare truth is that the British were busily engaged in despoliation of Indian culture to the best of their abilities. During the entire British regime of exploitations, the Christians may have been in a numerical minority but they had the political majority.

They were in power and no amount of whining can change that fact. True, the British established schools and colleges and Christian missionaries took a leaf from their political masters' book. The idea, again, was to manufacture a breed of Indians British in every way to serve as minions under the alien Raj, and not to save Indian souls. The impression that our contemporary secularists are seeking to create is that but for missionary effort India would have largely remained illiterate. That is so much stuff and nonsense. There were schools all over India to cater to various administrations. The cultural ethos was such that a limited number of students availed themselves of education, but they were by no means limited to Brahmins.
The entire Mughal regime was run by kayasthas who were the babus of their time. We should indeed be grateful to many Jesuit schools and colleges but let it not be forgotten that there were several times their numbers run by Hindu educational bodies - a fact that tends to be forgotten. It should bring tears to the eyes of Gopala Krishna Gokhale and several of his kind in their heaven. If Christians have set up schools and colleges, let it not be forgotten that so have Hindus. It was an orthodox Hindu, Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, who set tip the Hindu University in Banaras.

Again to say that only Christians have been working for the poor and the needy is telling half the truth. Down the centuries Hindu bodies have established support to the poor in various ways long before Europeans, like the Central Asian Muslims before them, came to India. Dharmashalas and temples have fed literally millions, free of cost, as part of Hindu dharma. To say, therefore, that Hindus don't care for the poor is a travesty of truth. Even today thousands of RSS sevaks and sevikas are giving the best years of their lives in the service of the country.

According to a Fact Sheet provided by the RSS (Seva Disha 97) there are as many as 22,866 sevakaryas serving in 579 districts of India of whom 10 per cent are doing health work, 59 per cent are engaged in education and 21 per cent in samajik vikas. Of the total, 13,509 are women working in 30 prants. In addition RSS can avail itself of the service of 38,218 part-time workers and 42,348 volunteers. In all, in just one year, as many as 49,12,789 people have received support directly from various sevakaryas. Some 23 per cent of sevakaryas work in rural areas, 42 per cent are vanavasis and 35 per cent sevabastis. If that is not impressive, what else is?

Who says -except our ignorant 'secularists'- that Hindus do not care for their poor? And may it be said once and for all: the reference here is only to the RSS. There are literally hundreds of Hindu organizations working quietly in towns and villages doing sterling work, asking for no praise or recognition from our ?secularists'. They are our forgotten humanitarians. When there are floods in the country, it is the RSS volunteer who is the first to go to the help of the people. When major tragedies strike anywhere, as in Latur earthquake, it is the RSS volunteer - yes, the same fascist, fundamentalist, communal worker - who is the first to appear on the scene, wanting to help and asking nothing in return, not even the soul of the distressed. When there was a ghastly train accident in Faridabad, it was an army of 500 RSS swayamsevaks who rushed to the scene, helped extract dead bodies from the wreck and took care of the belongings of the hapless
passengers.

It is hard to think of Congress volunteers doing the job. And Christians bodies would probably point out that they are numerically too few to do such organisation work at a moment's notice. RSS workers have been at the scenes of disaster at far too many places to bear mention. But why are they angry now?

For some good reason. Right from 1,000 A.D. and the first Muslim invasion of India, Hindus have suffered at the hands of proselytisers. First were Islamicists. Then came the British. The Hindus kept quite, numerically strong, they were politically in a minority. But deep inside unquenched fires have burnt. Having long been under assault, they now want to take a hand in the shaping of their own people's destinies. And can anyone blame them? Let it be stated in clear terms: conversions are an assault on the pervading cultural ethos which Hindus have always resented. Conversions can have no place in a civilized society. This is not a matter of freedom of speech or belief. Christians have practised their faith in total freedom through the centuries. It is not Christianity that is resented. What is resented is conversion.

Conversion leads to conflict and become an issue of public order.Truth is, the Judiciary has already made it clear that the right to propagate one's religion doesn't imply a right to convert another person. In the landmark Rev Stainslaus vs State of Madhya Pradesh case in 1977, the Supreme Court ruled that there is no fundamental right to convert another person to one's religion" and observed that such a right would impinge on the freedom of conscience guaranteed to all citizens of the country alike." In the judgement the Court upheld the constitutionality of two State Acts (passed by Madhya Pradesh and Orissa) which made conversions by force, fraudulence or allurements an offence under the law". Will Christian missionaries swear that they have never been guilty of such malpractice?

And let it be remembered: the support to Indian missionaries comes from abroad. Home Minister L K Advani was recently quoted as saying that between October and December 1998, 70 per cent of foreign funds privately donated went to missionaries.

This is an act of political subversion under the guise of humanitarian work. It is no accident that the United States is collating data on alleged attacks on Christians in India. And who,one would like to know, instigated Indian Christians living in America to demonstrate against the government of India in front of the United Nations? The church?

According to a report of the Indian Express (7 Jan 1999) "the sporadic but continuing attacks on Christians in parts of India could invite censure and even sanctions under a new American law which has recently come into effect?. According to the report, with the intent of "protecting religious freedom abroad", the US Congress had last year passed a legislation enjoining the US administration to set up an office for International Religious Freedoms Abroad in the state Department's Human Rights Bureau.

The Express report said: India could have the dubious distinction of being rapped in the very first report due in March... Already the US Embassy in New Delhi is believed to be making a laundry list of the incidents". The US Embassy and the US State Department should be warned: they are interfering in the internal affairs of India, something that cannot to tolerated. Under the guise of protecting religious freedom, abroad, the United States is seeking actively to interfere in the domestic affairs of India. It should serve as a warning to Delhi. One hopes that Christian leaders will understand that dangers of trying to hide behind American laws to punish India. Doing that is playing with fire.

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