Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Reviving a bogey

Supreme Court of India has reiterated that ‘forceful religious conversions’ is a very serious issue and if true, could ultimately affect the security of the nation as well as freedom of religion and conscience of citizens. The Supreme Court on November 14, issued a notice on the union government to respond as to what steps it contemplated to curb such forced conversions either by force, allurement or fraudulent means. The Supreme Court notice was issued on a Public Interest Litigation(PIL) filed by BJP leader Ashwini Upadhyay. On the other hand, when people from other faiths are converted either by threat or allurement to Hinduism, it is called Ghar Wapsi (Hindi, meaning “Returning Home”), a programme of religious conversion to Hinduism and Sikhism from Islam, Christianity and other religions. A majority of states like Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Jharkhand have laws restricting religious conversions. Karnataka in southern India became the latest to enact such a law. According to official figures for the year 2020, the biggest gainer – in terms of new converts – was Hinduism. People who embraced Hinduism constituted 47 per cent of religious conversions in Kerala during the one-year period under reference. The VHP and RSS claim that forefathers of all Indians were once Hindus and therefore, have waged Ghar Wapsi programmes for several decades. VHP has embarked on a Gharwapsi campaign for people in the 19 districts of the Kashi region(UP) and seek to reconvert 5 lakh people during the campaign from November 6 to November 20,2022. VHP secretary general Milind Parande in 2019 claimed that the organisation “reconverted” 25,000 Muslims and Christians to Hinduism in 2018. Any Hindu who seeks to become a Christian has to comply with severe requirements and if he or she passes the test, the Christian missionary or evangelist involved is targeted for using fraud or force. Such blatant acts that provoke and cause communal disharmony are not deemed as divisive and communal in India. Article 25 of the constitution of India, gives every person the right to freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess, practice, and propagate religion subject to public order, morality, and health. Article 26 also gives all denominations the right to manage their own affairs in matters of religion. However, the different yardstick applied against Christianity and to an extent, Islam through enactment of anti-conversion laws reflect the dichotomy of the constitution. If Christianity in India has been growing even to a small extent, then the alibis against it could have been even least logical. However facts prove otherwise because in 200 years under British rule, the Christian population never exceeded 3% of the population. Between 1981 and 1991, Christian population in India declined from 2.45% to 2.32% of the entire population. Between 1991 and 1998 the Hindu population increased by 2.5%, while the Christian population increased by .008%. People of various religions and creed need to act against such forces who justify crimes in the name of their religion. The progress and development taking place would amount to nothing if this danger is ignored and governments gradually reduced to the rule by religious leaders. Christians must welcome, rather than object to, any measure to forestall fraudulent conversions. To do otherwise is to lend credence to canards that the sole motive for Christian humanitarian work is conversion and that all conversions are fraudulent.

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