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, April 02, 2006

Evangelists' half truths

Vivek Gumaste

Apropos the article, "Bashing Christians yet again, (Think pad, March 25), by Dominic Emmanuel, the outlandish claims of persecution of Christians vis-à-vis the Haqeeqat controversy, the pressure tactics from abroad by attempting to involve international agencies and US Senators and the pretence of righteous indignation are all too familiar. The present scenario has the makings of yet another fraudulent campaign aimed at camouflaging the nefarious activities of Christian missionaries. The reference to the Gujarat riots (which did not involve Christians) and the Shabari Kumbh Mela (which has no direct bearing on the present controversy) reveal the agenda of the clergy: defame the growing influence of Hindu organisations in communities they see as fertile ground for evangelism.

It is important to revisit the so-called anti-Christian acts which were reported in the Indian media in 1998-1999, and zealously propagated overseas by certain sections of the Indian diaspora. One case involved the rape of four nuns in Jhabua (Madhya Pradesh), while another indicated that Christian priests had been attacked and the Bible burnt in Wynad (Kerala). In each of these cases, the media with the help of the Christian community was quick to implicate Hindu extremists and deliberately project a wider anti-Christian vendetta.

Investigation revealed that the culprits in the Jhabua rape episode were in fact Christians and the Wynad incident was more fiction than fact. By the time these details were available, the vilification campaign against the Hindu groups had served its purpose - a clever ploy, no doubt, but morally repulsive.

Reverting to the present incident, the bishop and the archbishop stand convicted by the words of their own spokesman: "Their only crime is that they allowed the book to be kept on shelves for sale." In other words, they were active hawkers of this hate manual, a crime in itself. When a non-denominational entity like a bookstore carries a controversial book, freedom of expression can be invoked and justified. But when a religious organisation sells a book that denigrates another, the intention is but malicious. This violates the basic tenet of secularism that demands that religions respect one another. Punitive action is certainly warranted in this case.

By use of the phrase, "some denigrating remarks", the spokesman for the Emmanuel Mission appears to make light of the whole affair and indicates a blatant insensitivity to Hindu feelings. Mr Kanchan Gupta in his article, "Abusing freedom, falsifying gods" (March 25) meticulously details the numerous offensive remarks the book, Haqeeqat contains. Gauge the toxicity of anti-Hindu venom: "Naked sanyasis are worshipped by (Hindu) women. The moment (Hindu) women see naked sanyasis, they fall on the ground and prostrate themselves before the sanyasis. (Hindu) women pour water on the sanyasis' penises and then happily drink that water. Linga devata is gratified when he sees all these repulsive things and feels empowered... These people... do not know the difference between... right and wrong." (p 93)

Rather than trying to defend a hopeless case with the aid of half-truths and distortions, the Emmanuel Mission must accept their mistake and apologise to the Hindu community. Hindus would respond positively as they are tolerant and magnanimous by nature. Tolerance until now has been exclusively a Hindu trait. In future, the Government must ensure that all religions conform to a common code of civility. Failure to do so will only fuel Hindu extremism and make a serious dent in Indian secularism.


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