You can term this either as the basis of our existence or as the root cause of our varied opinions, but ‘religion’ will never lose its authority and influence. It many a time is so sensitive that thousands lose their lives owing to clashes and is sometime so immaterial that persons from same community do not think twice while slaying one another. Isn’t it true that you can defame the father in the presence of his child, but the same child will become a rebellion in case you defame the religion he belongs to? Let us not fall into the argument of which religion is the firstborn or which one is the supreme. The makers of our constitution explicitly gave freedom to pursue any religion to the citizens, and we must all respect the ideology. This is something that makes us stand a step ahead and be proud to call India our motherland. Also true is the fact that genuine faith conversion is neither prohibited under the constitution nor in any of the laws. But what is authentic and what constitutes to being unauthentic is a tough question to answer in the absence of any national law on faith conversion. Lured and forceful conversions have happened in the past, the irony however is that they were not conversed in the Parliament as was the Agra one since they saw Hindus convert their faith. Does this not mean that we have let one of the most penetrating issues disturb communal harmony and hold real development?
In the present scenario, a person accused of forceful or lured faith conversion is booked under the Sections 295A (Deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings), 153A (promoting enmity between different groups), and 505(2) and 505(3) (Statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes) of the IPC.
The Agra dispute is being handled in the same manner and now when the converts are alleging that they were misled and lured with perks, the ‘reconversion’ or ‘home coming’ drive of Hindu groups has come under observance. Was it so wicked on the part of the organizers to bring back Muslims under the shadow of Hinduism, who at some point in time in the history had converted to Islam? And if this is, why isn’t there an explicit law of the land that should aptly differentiate between what is allowed and what isn’t? It is so uncomplicated to bring any of the organizers under the heat of law post any religious conversions by claiming that the converts were coerced or were enticed to change their faith. Let us get real please, and a bit more prudent. How will someone determine as to whether the converts of Agra knew what the ceremony meant, and who can deny the possibility that they changed their statement owing to political and religious pressure? Secularism in India is more of anti-Hindu now rather than anti-communal.
The worst part was the warning by one of the opposition leaders that the Agra instance can result in communal riots. One thing is sure, political groups, and especially regional ones, backed by either of the communities/ castes will use this as a way to gain mileage and rarely will anyone think of honest endeavors to check such setbacks in future. The talk of the town now is the upcoming event announced by the VHP which is likely to see as many as 6,000 non-Hindus reconvert their faith to Hinduism. The duty of the state is to validate whether the scheduled episode has bona fide consent of probable converts and if this is the case, then deploying policemen to stop this happening in the name of likely disturbance of communal accord is unlawful. Haven’t we heard of instances when the Christian missionaries lure underprivileged rural residents with money and other perks for persuading them to embrace Christianity? Who funds these associations, or for that matter, aren’t some Madrasas being funded by illicit elements to encourage Hindus part with their faith? But since the present incident relates to alleged defeat of the minority, the Parliament has been made a combat zone by opposition legislators.
Uniformity is what we need when it comes to such a sensitive substance. Conversions backed by coercion and/or luring have to be curtailed sooner than later. Plus, to make it tough to blame the organizer post honest conversions, reporting of any such incident to the local authority, say one month in advance, should be a compulsory norm. It cannot be denied that reporting of such faith conversions in advance may invite harsh attempts aimed at the probable convert from people of his/ her present faith. The need to frame a well-defined conversion law, able to prevent any forcible/ lured faith conversion and misuse of allegations for violence over conversion organizers, is indispensable. Religion is a complex subject-matter and cannot be handled by dirty and aimless protests in the Parliament. A pure secular nation, India, cannot allow any funds from overseas flowing with a view to disturbing the sacred balance of communal accord. In the same context, let us also not disremember that the essence of our constitution lies in freedom to any religion, hence faith conversions should not be prohibited, rather be streamlined. Be it any political party in the center or in the state/s, and be the same ‘secular’ to the core, any infringement with the fundamental right to freedom of religion should be curbed.
Constitution is supreme and the basis of our democracy. The makers had the wisdom of considering what was to be made a part of this binding literature, but can we deny that they too were political men, had some ambitions, and also the immense pressure to make all castes and communities contented. Isn’t Article 25 (1) of the constitution, which says ‘Subject to public order, morality and health and to the other provisions of this Part, all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion’, an evidence of same. The word ‘propagate’ means ‘spread and promote widely’, which boils down to inducing people convert faith. While a few true secular leaders opposed the inclusion of this word, the Congress was least bothered. This was something that accorded extended life to what had happened during the Mughal reign and the British rule, where Hindus were converted to Islam and Christianity. Many backward and poor Hindus of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, and Chhattisgarh have been lured using foreign funds by Christian missionaries and mass faith conversion ensued. Hindu groups, with lacking means, were helpless to avert.
Vote-bank politics and the command procured by regional political parties will never make it possible to get rid of the word ‘propagate’ from the constitution. But, when Hindu groups are legitimately bringing converted Hindus back to their faith, allegations of luring and coercion are baseless. And to avert any real luring and coercion, we would first need to collate the data as to how many Hindus were decoyed to convert by the Christian or Muslim groups, and then deploy such labors that can forbid these episodes in the future. A law on faith conversion has to be wide-ranging, superseding any and every of such law presently adopted by states, which however are being disputed in the Apex Court for allegedly being unconstitutional, and above all, the same has to be equitable and justifiable to all religions. Never forget that religion and belief in God is an attribute which makes a person lead a path towards righteousness and development of all. When the same is disrupted or is taken away by illicit endeavors, the person loses any vision towards growth or empowerment. For a poor family, which is vulnerable to such acts, the only motivation and strength is their religion and God. Protection of same, hence, is the foremost duty of the rulers. Political men should learn that religion is to relish and worship, not a weapon to get hold of power.
In the end, let me also cite a petition which is presently under consideration in the honorable Supreme Court and requests for extension of Scheduled Caste status to Dalit converts who have embraced Christianity or Islam. Isn’t that understood that if the converts were honest enough during conversion, they would have known that nothing as ‘untouchables’ exists in Islam or Christianity? And if the only reason for conversion, as they allege, was the appeal of the other faith, why then look for pity statuses and perks post conversion? It is evident that a fraction of converts to Islam either hunt for the freedom of multiple marriages or the state-backed benefits extended to Muslim or Christian minorities. Tell me, what shall be the underlying aim for faith conversion? -Of course, to be more near to the so-called Almighty of the new faith. Why then look for added perks in the society. A central law on faith conversion, as discussed above, must consider this and should bar any perks to converted ones which are available by the grace of constitution or laws of the land to the inherent ones. It is evident that unless a vigorous law checks such dishonest transformations, India would witness more and more conversions and ensuing damage of national uprightness, especially Hinduism.