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.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

"Christian Conversion Lobby” forces Indian Actor out of Tsunami-hit Village

Tamil Nadu News
April 12, 2005

The community hall in tsunami-hit Devanampattinam hamlet that once housed the '''Project Hope,’’ launched by Bollywood hero Vivek Oberoi in Cuddalore district, now wears a deserted look. Barring an odd security personnel or two, there is hardly anyone in the hall since the actor himself has shifted the relief work to nearby Pondicherry.

When talking to some reporters, while explaining why he chose to pack up his Project Hope, Oberoi hinted that a ‘‘Christian conversion lobby’’ had been maligning him and yet others made out as if it Christian voluntary organisations had edged him out, as he was a stumbling block in their missionary agenda.

Christian organisations have now moved in for relief work among the tsunami-hit Hindu fishermen in Devanampattinam village. One of the first good Samaritans to pitch in after the devastating December 26 fury, Oberoi had evoked all-round admiration for his concerns, for an almost total lack of airs and for his readiness to rough it out in some trying circumstances.

Now his sudden departure, snide comments on the ‘‘conversion lobby’’ and indirect criticism of the Tamil Nadu Government, evoking a strong reaction from none other than the Chief Minister Jayalalitha herself, have raised questions about the State Government's tacit support to Christian missionaries.

The actor’s “Project Hope” for Devanampattinam, inspired and supported by his spiritual guru, Swami Chidanand Saraswathi (Parmarth Niketan Ashram, Rishikesh), had planned a well-designed self-contained modern village, complete with disaster-proof houses, well-equipped schools, day care centres, play grounds with necessary equipment, and so on; attending to almost every need of the community. Barring an orphanage under construction, one could see now little of Oberoi’s grandiose project.

Among the tsunami-affected, there are several villagers who readily acknowledged Oberoi’s contribution. ‘‘He distributed several hundred fishing nets. He also constructed over 80 temporary shelters. We certainly regret his sudden departure. Whatever the reason, we cannot question his bona fides,’’ asserted M. Subramani, a leading light of the fishing community here.

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