IMAGINE a situation now where every person who once voted for the Congress can no longer vote for the BJP or vice-versa. If a person has the right to change his political affiliation, why can’t he have the right to change his religious identity? Christians have often been accused of proselytisation. Even after nearly two millennia of Christian presence in India, their population has not exceeded three per cent. The Constitution has given everyone the right to preach and propagate his religion. Yet, states like MP, Arunachal Pradesh, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat had thought it necessary to enact laws to prevent conversion.
Though some of these laws have been in existence for over five decades, not a single Christian has so far been found guilty of using force or fraud to convert anyone. Yet, there is clamour for an all-India law, now that the BJP has the requisite majority in the Lok Sabha and hopes to have in the Rajya Sabha by ’16. In fact, there is reason to believe the recent Agra reconversion drama was to create an atmosphere for enactment of such a national law.
Long before St Thomas is believed to have set foot in Kodungalloor, Kerala—where, incidentally, the world’s second oldest mosque is also situated—missionaries were sent to South Asian regions and beyond by Emperor Ashoka following his conversion to Buddhism. Adi Shankaracharya used the stratagem of dialogue and debate to propagate his faith. True, the Portuguese used force against the natives but it is also true that force was used to drive the Buddhists out of the country and to suppress various oppressed castes.
However, the single largest proselytiser is the Indian state which, by defining Hindus as those who do not belong to one of the minority religions, declared everyone else Hindu. By denying reservation to Dalit Christians and Muslims, it has reserved 50 per cent seats for the majority community. It lost even the fig leaf of argument that Islam and Christianity did not recognise castes when reservation was granted to Sikhs and Buddhists, who also follow egalitarian religions. More than the propaganda, it is the state discrimination that worries minorities. A Hindu swami was killed, as proved, by Naxalites in Kandhamal. It was used as a ruse to destroy church after church and drive out Christians from their villages. They did not retaliate against a single person. Imagine what would have happened if a temple, not St Sebastian’s Church at Dilshad Garden in Delhi, had been burnt?
Nobody questions the right of Hindu groups like Hare Krishna to find followers in the West. Whether it is Mata Amritanandamayi or Sathya Sai Baba, most of their money comes from rich patrons in the West. Christian groups also receive money and there are systems in place to monitor how they use it. But an impression has been created that Christians get money to proselytise. Let the Constitution be thrown to the winds, let Christian centres be razed to the ground, Christians have nothing to fear, except their Lord. (C) Outlook
Veteran journalist and educator A.J. Philip heads the NGO ‘Deepalaya’.