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.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Papal misgiving about India

by Dina Nath Mishra

Pope Benedict XVI has not only ripped India on anti-conversion but has also commended reconstitution of the National Integration Council and constitution of a separate Ministry for Minority Affairs. He has charged some Indian States of practising discriminatory restrictions on the fundamental right to religious freedom.

The tiny city State of Vatican has a sovereign ruler who enjoys much more influence, for he is supposed to possess divine right over all Roman Catholics, which is one of the sects of Christianity, in the world. But who has given him the right to interfere in the internal affairs of a sovereign country like India?

Some Christians in India and elsewhere protested against banning conversions by fraud and allurement. Does the Pope have a better locus-standi in India than the Shankaracharyas have in the Vatican? The Pope, who discriminates between Roman and non-Roman Catholics, has the temerity to preach religious tolerance to India, which has a tradition of not only tolerance but also a respectful attitude towards all faiths. Essentially, he wants the Indian Government to adopt a licentious approach of conversion by allurement in favour of Christianity.

The now late Pope Paul visited India in 2003 and announced the target of converting Asia into Christianity, having converted Europe in the first millennium.

Hindu society is the biggest and the softest target in Asia. After his trip to India, Pope Paul met visiting Indian bishops and according to The Times Of India, Mumbai, of June 4, 2003, expressed concern about "Increased activity of a few Hindu fundamentalist groups which are creating suspicion of the Church and other religions." He added: "Unfortunately, in some regions the State authorities have yielded to the pressures of these extremists and have passed unjust conversion laws, prohibiting free exercise of the natural right to religious freedom."

He lamented that, "State support has been withdrawn for those in the SC who have chosen Christianity" and that "People experience animosity, discrimination and even violence because of their religious or tribal affiliations."

Pope Paul advised the Indian bishops to courageously proclaim the gospel, the hindrances notwithstanding.

Some church authorities in India have challenged authorities to prove any evidence of conversion by fraudulent means. One can recall that the then Congress Government of MP had appointed the Niyogi Commission to look into the matter. In its voluminous report based on thousands of evidences, the commission quoted innumerable instances of conversions to Christianity by fraud and allurements.

Yet, if one wants evidence, one can go through the agenda papers of the National Integration Council of August 2005.

One para of the agenda papers would be sufficient for assessment of the situation: "The religious conversions of Hindus - Vanvasis, Adivasis, Brahmins, caste Hindus Harijans and the small Sikh and Jain communities - by rabid evangelising churches of all denominations is a major cause of social unrest and communal disharmony."

What Pope Benedict XVI has told our ambassador in Vatican has striking similarity with the US attitude expressed from time to time in their various governmental reports. It is really surprising that the US Department's Annual Report 2003 on International Religious Freedom (IRF), laments the fact that the NDA Government was 'rewriting' history text books without taking counsel from the Central Advisory Board on Education (CABE).

The US interest in enabling and exerting pressure in the direction of the de-Hinduisation process, is underscored when the issue of reviewing history textbooks for children in India finds mention in the annual report on IRF although what this has to do with religious freedom is anyone's guess.

Not surprisingly, one of the first things that the 'secular' UPA Government did was to re-constitute the NIC and the CABE and pack it with those activists and representatives of anti-Hindu NGOs who had campaigned extensively against the BJP throughout the NDA regime and in the 2004 Parliament elections.

There is similarity between what the Pope had said and what the US reports say. Add to it the mega-finance provided to the Evangelist NGOs and anti-Hindu activists running NGOs in India. The Bush administration has the same agenda as Vatican. Understandably, as the chief patron of Opus Dei he extended support to Bush in the last US presidential election and played an active political role when he issued a statement of guidance to US bishops to discourage a vote for John Kerry.

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