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.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Christian Dalitism - A Better Public Interest Litigation

News Today
September 10, 2005

The issue of religious conversions is always a touchy issue. In most cases, faith has got little to do with it. Majority of conversions are wrought by allurements and incentives.

In other words, individual volition has very little to do with it and only external influence at work. At any rate, if conversions were really a personal thing would there be missionaries prowling like hungry wolves looking for 'souls for harvest'?

It is in this context that the public interest litigation filed in the Madras High Court yesterday should be viewed. The PIL is challenging the exclusion of Dalit Christians from the ambit of the Protection of Civil Rights Act.

The petitioner has said that conversion of Dalits to Christianity has not ended the social and communal discrimination.

He has argued the caste-based social discrimination and humiliation was prevalent in many churches, where separate places for worship and burial grounds had been given to the Dalits.

They are not permitted to enter into inter-caste marriages, and they are humiliated and discriminated against.

Now, this is interesting and illuminating. Among the many flimsy reasons put forth in support of mass conversions by missionaries is that Dalits are being discriminated against in Hinduism.

It is always a moot point as to whether Hinduism as a matrixed religion leads to discrimination or whether individual belonging Hindu denominations practice untouchability.

Even assuming, just for argument sake, that it is Hinduism which engenders discrimination, now what is the excuse for switching over to Christianity?

The petitioner has also said the Dalit Christians suffered 'double discrimination', as the government did not provide them with reservation even when the faith they had embraced was unable to ensure their equal treatment.

Why should the government do that when the reason for conversions of most 'Hindu' Dalits is that there are no Dalits in Christianity? How can you recognise something, which, at least technically, don't exist?

The PIL, if anything. proves two things. One, discrimination against Dalits is not a religious phenomenon and it is only because of a certain kind of cultural mind set.

Secondly, there can be no room for recognition for Dalits in Christianity when, in the first place, they are converted in protest against 'Dalitism' in Hinduism.

The petitioner has said the aim of Protection of Civil Rights Act was to abolish untouchability, and pointed that the amendment to the Act ensured that there were 'Dalit Sikhs' and 'Dalit Buddhists'.

But the point is that these two religions don't have missionaries looking for people to convert. The PIL has, in a sense, struck a blow for forces arguing against conversions.

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