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 16, 2005

US evangelist's B'lore visit sparks controversy

Sunday, January 16 2005 16:35 Hrs (IST) - World Time -

Bangalore: The proposed 'Pray for India' programme later this week by American evangelist Benny Hinn has sparked a controversy with BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) and Sangh Parivar organisations up in arms against it, dubbing it as one that's intended to promote religious conversion.

Florida-based pastor, who claims to have the power to heal the sick and dying, is slated to attend the three-day prayer meeting from January 21 at Jakkur airfield in Bangalore which has been touted by the organisers as a big show saying lakhs of people from across the country are expected to attend it.

The event has drawn strong opposition from the BJP, Bajrang Dal and Hindu Jagarana Vedike who see it as a conspiracy to convert the poor and vulnerable sections to Christianity.

Bajrang Dal has already announced that 10,000 people would stage a demonstration at the venue. Vedike activists yesterday burnt publicity material of the proposed congregation. In fact, hoardings, banners and posters are now dotting various parts of the city.

Speaking to reporters in Bangalore today (Jan 16, 2005), the Opposition BJP leader in the Legislative Assembly B S Yediyurappa sought to take the State Government to task for granting permission to hold the event at Jakkur airfield, which is "sensitive" from the Defence and security viewpoint.

Yediyurappa termed as "unpardonable crime" and "insult to Hindus", the circulation of pamphlets by organisers of the event criticising idol worship. "Is the event not a conspiracy to convert people?" he asked.

Accusing the organisers of promoting "wrong propaganda" that Hinn is a "Godman", Yediyurappa strongly urged the Government to reconsider its permission to the prayer meeting at Jakkur, expressing fears that "men from CIA and American Defence establishment may come there pretending to be foreigners attending the congregation. He said Hindus would voluntarily protest the event.

Chief Minister N Dharam Singh has already stated that the Government would not take any step to stop the programme, saying the administration cannot interfere with religious events.

Defending the convention, the organisers have said it's being conducted with "noble intention". During his previous visit to Mumbai last year he did not speak anything about conversion or anything that affects the people's religious sentiments, they said.

There are reports that Chief Ministers of some Congress-ruled States are likely to attend the meet.

Yediyuruappa said while the Government did not allow conduct of certain rituals at the Hindu-Muslim shrine at Bababudangiri hills in Chikmagalur district late last year and amassed police force to enforce its decision, it's now "organising and arranging" Hinn's programme.

Meanwhile, renowned Kannada litterateur and Jnanpith award winner U R Ananthamurthy has cautioned Dharam Singh against associating himself with the prayer meeting.

"The Chief Minister should not identify himself with this mass hysteria. We should not encourage this (mass hysteria)", Ananthamurthy said.

Police have said they have made elaborate security arrangements for the event.

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