Dangerous change

Religious Conversions

By Poonam I Kaushish

India is caught up in a battle royale between the Gods after a 17-year-old girl committed suicide as she was being tortured by her school to convert to Christianity to continue studying in Tamil Nadu. Resulting in Supreme Court terming “fraudulent and forced religious conversions a very serious issue and a very dangerous thing which may ultimately affect the security of the nation as well as the freedom of religion and conscience of citizens,” last week. It asked the Centre to specify steps it could take to prevent it.
Primarily, as over the years religious conversion has become the most exploited, explosive, social and political issue reaching an alarming situation as our political tribe and organisations carry on churning the religious conversions cauldron, by carrying out mass forced conversions of SC-STs and poor in rural and tribal areas via enticement of gifts, cash or inter-religious marriage labeled as ‘love jihad’. Last month the Madhya Pradesh police arrested three Christians for trying to convert Hindus.
In UP Chief Minister Yogi’s Hindu Yuva Vahini raided a church, accusing members of converting people. In Jharkhand, RSS aims to make whole blocks “Christianity free” and recently converted 53 families to Hinduism. Hindu Jagran Manch activists alleged Christian preachers from Bhopal and Kerala promise jobs and money to illiterate tribals’ if they practice Christianity at its ‘Changai Sabhas.’
Pertinently, 77% of the new converts to Islam were Hindus and 63% women last year. Added a Vishva Hindu Parishad leader, “‘Every year over 12 lakh Hindus become either Christians or Muslims.”
Turn North, South, East or West, the story is the same. Religion is turning out to be a question of money, big money. Recall, flush with funds from their US headquarters, a number of church groups allegedly converted hundreds of Hindus to Christianity in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra, Kashmir and Karnataka by giving them money and jobs post Independence.
As a counter the VHP and Bajrang Dal too established groups of armed youth, called Raksha Sena in every Chhattisgarh village to stop conversions to Christianity. And where conversions had taken place they launched the Ghar Wapsi (“Return Home”) in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Gujarat and Orissa for reconverting tribal Christians back to Hinduism.
Reminiscent of the flurry of orchestrated propaganda campaign and popular inflammatory and demagogic appeals launched by Arya Samaj and other Hindu revivalist bodies in the 1920s in UP, against the “abduction” and conversions of Hindu women by Muslim goondas, ranging from allegations of rape, elopement to luring, conversion, love and forced marriages to draw sharper lines between Hindus and Muslims.
To put an end to this 10 States: UP, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal, Rajasthan, Arunachal and Jharkhand have banned conversion in all but name by enacting anti-conversion laws that bar conversions but allow re-conversions to Hinduism. Assam has warned it will ensure jail term for anyone who harasses an Assamese girl or makes her a victim of love jihad by hiding their identity
All have enacted Freedom of Religion Act by making it not just an ‘issue’ but a criminal offence warranting a sentence up to 10 years, with a fine of Rs 50,000, in specific cases. Most States have made it mandatory that every conversion has to be notified in advance to the local Government authorities, including the district magistrate. Failure to do so can also invite prosecution.
In fact, Article 25 which lays down the tenets of freedom of religion has an important rider. It specifies the limits within which religious freedom can be exercised. All persons, it states are equally entitled to freedom of conscience, and the right to freely profess, practice and propagate religion, subject to public order, morality and health.
Dispute, if any, can only be on the interpretation of the expression “propagate any religion”. Suffices to say that the State will not allow its citizens to do whatever they please in the name and under the guise of religion.
Further, not many are aware the ‘love jihad’ programme started in 1996 with blessings of some Muslim organizations in Kerala, though the term was first heard in the State’s Pathanamthitta district in September 2009 and used in a Kerala High Court judgment three months later. Dubbing it ‘an alleged Muslim plot to forcefully convert young brilliant Hindu girls to Islam by having Muslim boys entrap them in love affairs’, it asked the State Government to consider enacting a law to prohibit such “deceptive acts of LoveJihad”.
Notwithstanding denials by Islamic fundamentalist outfits like National Democratic Front (NDF) and ‘Campus Front’ of Popular Front of India (PFI), the Kerala Government said that 2,667 women had converted to Islam in the State since 2006. Police figures on the other hand total over 10,000 conversions in the last four years alone. Add to this another 60,000 girls have been converted in Karnataka alone according to the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti. In the last two months UP registered over 40 LJ cases.
Interestingly, the UN guarantees the right to convert to another religion as a human right. Alongside many Western countries allow conversion while some Islamic nations have banned conversion from Islam to another religion while permitting conversion to Islam. Recall, a number of Dalits switched from Hinduism to Islam in Tamil Nadu’s Meenakshipuram district in the early 1980s.
India’s misfortune is that Hindu, Muslim and Christian fundamentalism is growing thanks to political and intellectual double-speak. Whereby, secularism has degenerated from its lofty ideal of equal respect for all religions to a cheap and diabolical strategy for creating captive religious vote-banks.
Today it is being used by terrorist outfits to trap innocent citizens. UP’s Anti-Terrorist Squad recently arrested an Islamic scholar and 8 suspected terrorists for religious conversion by distributing money. According to the ISIS mouthpiece Voice of Koharasan the first Indian suicide bomber was a Christian Keralite converted to Islam.
Pertinently, none of our leaders want to acknowledge they are the culprits nor willing to address the crux: Conversions takes place when poor of various creed and caste pleas for dignity, self-respect and economic betterment fall on deaf ears. Alas, leaving them no recourse but to freely grab monies offered by Hindu priests, Christian missionaries or Muslim mullas for their votes.
It’s another matter that it fails to deliver them from caste-oppression. Add to this economic lollipops —— jobs, schools, health facilities and social benefits — dignity, self-respect — one is face-to-face with instances of fraudulent conversion.
A way forward is a separate law be made to control such conversions or the offence should be added to the existing Indian Penal Code (IPC). And the Law Commission prepare a report as well as a Bill to control “Deceit Religious Conversion.
We need to consider a ban on conversion politics as there is no mysticism in the secular character of the State. The State is neither anti-God nor pro-God. It is expected to treat all religions and people alike. Today we live in a dangerous terror-infested world. High time we did a cost-benefit analysis and put a stop to converting religious gush into conversion slush! — INFA