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

Delegates reject Christian interpretation on conversions

Dharam Shourie in New York

Angry Hindu, Buddhist, Jain and Sikh delegates of the World Peace Summit have rejected the interpretation of some Christian organizations that the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights gave them the right to unhindered conversions.

At a hurriedly convened meeting, they adopted a resolution that the Declaration's provisions did not grant any such right and resolved to present it to the United Nations and seek clarifications from it.

The resolution was read out at the closing session of the Summit, but did not form part of the Declaration issued by it.

Hindu leaders, including VHP leader Ashok Singhal, said they fully agreed with the Summit's declaration but had objections to the "misinterpretation" of the provision by some Christian organizations.

The article of the Declaration in question says, "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, worship and observance."

The Declaration was adopted by the General Assembly way back on December 10, 1948.

The resolution adopted by the Hindu, Buddhist, Jain and Sikh delegations says any such provisions either in the Declaration or any other human rights instruments "do not mean and cannot be construed to authorizing any establishment or individual to resort to organizing proselytization which has a long history of creating tension, conflicts, between religious communities and which continue to impair inter-faith goodwill, tolerance and harmony."

Legal experts from India and Japan, including noted lawyer L M Singhvi, drafted the resolution which was adopted at a hurriedly convened meetings of the religious leaders of these faiths.

Delegates attending the meeting said Buddhists were particularly agitated over the interpretation being given by some Christians, pointing out that several Muslim bodies also opposed it.

Hindu leaders said that everyone had the right to follow any path or religion and even to change it. But to lure others to change their religions en masse by giving incentives was wrong and that is what was being objected to.

Making conversion to a religion a condition for giving aid to the needy cannot be tolerated, they said.

Singhal also denied that VHP or any Hindu organization was involved in attacks on churches or Christians, saying these criminal acts were committed by criminals and such incidents needed to be treated as a law and order problem rather than politizised.

Of the 108 delegates to the Summit from India, twelve were non-Hindus including four Muslim and two Christians.

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