Conversion Bogey

The manner is which the Rajasthan Legislative Assembly has piloted the controversial anti-conversion bill calls for wide condemnation. The motive behind the legislation in itself goes against the spirit of a secular polity where every individual is guaranteed the freedom to profess and practice the religion of one’s choice. The very essence of secularism as enshrined in Article 25 is now being directly attacked by a State legislation and to let it merely pass off as an aberration will set forth a dangerous precedent that will cause permanent damage to the secular character of the country. Historically, India has been a land of plurality of powerful religious sects. As such religious tolerance has been one of the traditional social values widely acknowledged throughout history. 

While the controversial bill in question is aimed against those who allegedly convert, most notably the Christian Missionaries, it has provisions for the faithful to be re-converted to Hinduism. This in itself goes to show the dubious nature of the bill which is aimed not only against forced conversions but any form of conversion while incongruously calling itself the freedom of religion bill. Rather by policing every step of citizens who have been given by right, to practice, profess and propagate religions of their choice, it would be more appropriate to dub the controversial legislation as the suppression of religion bill.

Rather, the very basis of Article 25-28 dealing with freedom of religion would imply that religious conversions itself is a natural corollary to the choice given under this fundamental right. While conversions brought about by fraud or coercion amounts to a crime, there are enough safeguards under the present penal system to check such notorious designs. Rather than to make a complete mockery of an individual’s liberty, the State, if at all it is serious, should rather consider the problem by making a difference between conversions that is voluntary and involving one’s free choice and all other conversions that involves coercion, allurement and those that are forced upon an unwilling individual. At the end, it is the question of consent that one would have to look at in determining whether or not forced conversion takes place. 

While the onus of forced conversion should not be merely put on Christian missionaries, the political and religious Hindu groups who are concerned by the desertion of believers to other religions (whether Buddhism, Christianity, Jainism etc.) would also have to turn the search light on themselves and find out the reasons as to why believers are flocking to other religions and faith rather than blaming the missionaries for what appears to be genuine grievances faced by ordinary people under the Hindu fold. Rather than seeking State intervention and putting legal injunction on religious matters, a socio-religious reform movement should take the lead in correcting the wrongs or shortfall if any within that particular religion whether Hinduism, Buddhism or Christianity. 

As a secular country which guarantees individual and corporate freedom of religion and deals with the individual as a citizen (and not on the basis of religion or creed), no political party, groups or government should even think of promoting or interfering with the religion of an individual. While freedom has its reasonable limits, to profess, practice and propagate one’s religion is a matter of individual choice and consent and no one can take this away, not by forced conversion and certainly not through the controversial anti-conversion bill. Both are undesirable acts.