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Essay on “The right and Wrongs of Conversion” Complete Essay for Class 10, Class 12 and Graduation and other classes.

The right and Wrongs of Conversion

 

POINT TO DEVELOP 1. Meaning of conversion in the theological sense of the term.

  1. Historical perspective and well-known instances of conversions. The concept dates back to Vedic times.

  2. In earlier times, conflict over conversion took the form of debate and discussions, which ultimately reformed the orthodox religion. Hinduism is a classic example. Violent clashes were rare.

  3. Religious against Islam arose only when conversions the religion were forced by early Muslim rulers.

  4. Later , Islam and Hinduism learned to co-exist and even influenced each there.

  5. Arrival of Christie missionaries has had a beneficial impact in several ways.

  6. Conversions could have been in part due to inducement, but mainly because the new religion offered self-respect and social emancipation.

  7. The debate over conversion has been re-ignited in the wake of violence in Dangs district in Gujarat.

  8. The significant increase in Christian population in Gujarat has led to some groups demanding a ban on conversions.

  9. Constitutional provisions related to right to freedom of religion.

  10. “Right to convert” is not included in freedom of religion, according to the Supreme Court.

  11. Demands for banning missionaries overlook the social work of missionaries.

  12. Conflict can be resolved only though dialogue.

  13. Though conversion through inducement should be discouraged, it is difficult to define ‘inducement’.

  14. A blanket ban on conversion violates the freedom of conscience.

  15. Public order must be maintained but the state cannot interfere in matters of faith.

  16. Conversions can be effectively stopped if social inequalities and rigidities are removed.

  17. Ultimately, all mercenary conversions are self-defeating in nature.

 

The dictionary meaning of the term ‘conversion’ in the present context may be, in its theological sense, the turning of sinners to God; a change from sinfulness to righteousness; or in the more familiar sense, the action of bringing a person over, or the fact of being brought over, to a particular belief or opinion , specially to a religious faith.

Historically speaking , conversion must be as old as religion itself. India, too, is not new to the phenomenon. The early Vedic religion must have gathered followers form among the people who came into contact with it. The Puranas may not be exact history, but they have a certain historical value; they speak of forest dwellers and animist tribes being brought over to Vedic practices. It was in reaction to certain practices in the Vedic religion  that the Buddha evolved a new path with its emphasis on compassion and  avoidance of elaborate and expensive rituals. Almost contemporaneously to Buddhism, Jainism too preached a way of life different from the older orthodox faith(or dharma, for it had not come to be called by the name of Hinduism then). There were several converts to the new faiths; even monarchs adopted the new faiths Chandragupta Maurya became a Jain and Asoka’s espousal  of Buddhism is only too well known.

There is not much information about the numbers adopting the new religions, but they must have been considerable enough to make the orthodox aware of the need for debate and even change in their own religion. There are records of active debates between Vedic scholars and the bhikhus and the shramanas. There were also violent encounters between  followers of the different faiths: Jains are reported to have been massacred by Salivates in the south; skirmishes also took place between Jains and Vaishnavas. Overall, however, considering the vastness of the country and its truly long history, these violent outbursts in matters of religion could be easily dismissed as rare occurrences. The trend has been to tolerate and discuss and reform. The  debate between Buddhist an brahmancical faiths continued to the day of Adi Shankara who revolutionized the way to the re-establishment of Vedic religion.(Ironically, he was called a Buddhist in disguise.) It was this ability to look inward, think things out and adapt to new conditions an demands by reforming what existed earlier, in the process imbibing some of the features of the newer religions and philosophies that Hinduism was able to survive for so long. Indeed, it was Hinduism’s capacity for absorption that led to the virtual disappearance of Buddhism form the land of its birth: the Buddha was quietly absorbed into the Hindu pantheon as an avatar of Vishnu.

          Religious freedom has always been available to people residing in the region now called India. People could practice the faith of their choice and the preacher could  preach his ideas and convert people to his view several followers of Jainism in his day. Basaveswara drew persons form all castes to become Veerashaivas. As for propagation, religious ides spread mainly through that means. Asoka sent Buddhist missions across the seas. Hinduism was also   propagated beyond the boundaries if the land of its birth; witness the Hindu kingdoms of southeast Asia where the ruins of  the temples built by those kings survive to this day. The Ramayana dance drama of the Indonesian style is world famous. There was thus no ‘ban’ no conversion at any time in India.

When Islam first came to India. Through the Arab traders on the western coast, there was no confirmation. It was when the Muslims came as conquerors and conversions took place under duress that there was resentment  and reaction. However, many such conversions are short lived; once the conqueror’s sword is lifted the convert slips back  into his old ways. The vast majority of Hindus, who had remained faithful to their religion despite defeat in battle, saw the converts as people who had betrayed their faith and country by going over to the side of the conqueror. But in mire settled times the tendency to debate and reform took over. The Sufi tradition and  the Bhakti movement, one might say, were a development of the mutual influence of Hindu and Islamic ideas. In the court of Akbar, there was discussion among representatives of different religious groups.

Christianity is said to have come to India in the very first years of the Christian era. The religious tolerance of the time allowed the first Christians to live in Kerala and practice their faith. Missionaries came to India long before colonial rule was established. But there were no crusades in India. And there were few, if any m attacks on the missionaries as there were in China, for example, in the nineteenth century, when missionaries were driven out form the interior. Hinduism responded in its typical way: by offering a challenge through public debate. Though the colonial rulers did not support the missionaries officially, more out of expediency than because of principles, of course , indirect support was available to them. However, if we are to be objective about the missionaries’ work in the colonial days, we have to admit the positive aspects of their presence. We have to recognize the pioneering work they did in the fields of education and medical support. Interaction with Christian ideas gave rise to our own socio-reform movements. The ‘ faults’ that the Christian missionaries found in the Hinduism of the day led to introspection by the thinking Hindus. It was the intellectual ferment that led to a rejuvenation of  Hindu thought and the abolition of obnoxious practices like sati.

Conversions, however, took place: some were famous, such as that of Pandita Ramabai; most were form the poorer oppressed classes , as it was in the case of Islam and even Buddhism earlier. The main reason was not inducement.  Perhaps, it could even be questioned if there was a complete change of belief and conviction. But the converts did seek self-respect which they were convinced they would gain by joining the other faith. Some years back, there were a large number of conversions to Buddhism in the wake of Amberkar’s adoption of that faith. More recently, there were reports of mass conversions in Meenalshipuram, in Tamil Nadu, this time to Islam. Interviews ten years later by newspaper reporters establish that the converts are not all that well off because of their decision to convert; yet not many are interested in ‘ re-conversion’. They are happy because they are no  longer considered social outcastes. So, there has got to be more than economic inducement involved to make one change one’s religion. It is quite another matter whether all caste differences and oppression disappear for all those who convert form Hinduism to other faiths.

Repots form Dangs in Gujarat, where there was trouble in 1999 over conversions, suggest that there are other dimensions to the trouble. Christian missionary activities have provided the tribal’s with schooling and health facilities. The conversions have certainly shown an increase in numbers if we go by the figures provided by the Socio-Economic Review, a budget publication of the state government. Even in respect of the overall growth rate of population in the state during the decade, the growth of nated districts of south Gujarat, has been significant. So, probably , there is some truth in the contention that conversions have taken place in the state, especially in the tribal areas. However, there is nothing to prove that the conversions have been forced or through  ‘ inducement’.

The question that arise are: is it right to convert at all? Is it right to call for a ban on conversion. As some groups have been doing? We must have a brief look at what the Constitution says about the freedom of religion  before we can come to conclusion on this .

Articles 25 to 29 are concerned with the right to the freedom of religion.

Article 25 reads : (1) 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 to freely profess, practice and propagate religion.

(2) Nothing in this article shall affect the operation of any existing law or prevent the state form making any law (a)  regulating or restricting economic, financial, political or other secular activity which may be associated with religious proactive; (b) providing for social welfare and reform or the throwing open of Hindu religious institutions of a public character to all classes and sections of the Hindus.

Article 26 reads: Subject to public order, morality and health, every religious  denomination or any section thereof shall have the right- (a) to establish and maintain institutions for religious or charitable purposes; (c) to own and acquire movable and immovable property; and (d) to administer such property in accordance with law.

Article 27 and 28 provide, among other things, that no taxes shall be levied for promoting any particular religion and that no person attending any educational institution recognized by the state or aided by it shall be forced to receive any religious instruction.

Article 29 provides that no citizen can abe denied admission  to any educational institution run or aided by the state on grounds of religion, caste , etc.

It is also important to recall the debates that took place in the Constituent Assembly the right to the freedom of religion was enshrined in the Constitution. Cutting across their religious affiations, and firmly putting the trauma of their religious affiliations, and firmly putting the trauma of  partition behind them, the members decided to include the right to propagate one’s religion in the freedom. A person of staunch Hindu belief such as K.M  Munshi said that the word ‘ propagate’ was a fundamental part of the tenets of the Christians , and thus they set great store by that right and not because they wanted to indulge in aggressive conversion. Another member of the Constituent Assembly, Krishna swami Bharati, stated that the Christian community had not transgressed the limits of legitimate propagation of religious views. And it was for other religious communities to emulate the Christians and propagate their own religions as well.

Some years ago, the Supreme Court dealt with the issue of conversion. A Constitution Beach of the court in a group of related cases in 1997 ruled that what Article 25(1) grants is not the right to convert another person to one’s own religion but to transmit or spread one’s religion by an exposition of its tenets. The article, the court pointed out, guarantees freedom of conscience to every citizen, and not merely to the followers of any particular religion. Any effort to purposely undertake to convert another person to one’s own religion would “impinge on the  ‘ freedom of conscience’ guaranteed to all the citizens of the country alike”. It further said: “What is freedom for one, is freedom for the other, in equal measure, and there can therefore be no such thing as a fundamental right to convert any person to one’s own religion.”

When some forces talk of banning missionaries, they conveniently forget that these missionaries  have spread education and brought health faculties to people in  remote areas, worked selflessly with leprosy patients and provided shelter to the aged and the destitute. It Is their faith that inspires them to do so. True, some of them have denigrated Hindu gods and customs in the process; but what stops the Hindu groups to work patiently with those very tribals to undo what they perceive as harmful? It is also to be admitted that enlightened Hindus in the past have heard the criticism of followers of other religions , accepted some of it and tried to reform Hinduism.

Dialogue is the only way out for promoting better understanding between conflicting groups. As the spread of misinformation is largely responsible for misunderstandings. Dissemination of correct information is necessary to contain the conflict. Rituals, theologies and institutions are unique to every religion, and this often leads to misunderstandings, as each religion asserts the superiority of its own set of rituals and institutions. The basis of dialogue should be a wish to understand the other’s point of view and a respect for the other’s integrity. The aim should be to promote the spirit of accommodation and adjustment to minimize conflict in society.

Coercive conversions can never be permitted. But that is not the issue. As to inducement, it is a difficult matter to prove. What exactly constitutes inducement? Money for the soul? Can souls be bought? Or are the amenities like medical assistance and education to be included among ‘inducement’? Then , there is also the issue of self-respect that the dalits and the tribals have sought in changing their religion. Can one really demarcate the point where mercenary   inducement beings and emotional inducement stops or for that matter whether there is an exercise of the right to the freedom of conscience?

Banning conversion is a two-edged weapon: it may effectively stop missionary activities of some kind , but it would also cut at the root of a vital freedom –the freedom to choose , the freedom of conscience.

If public order is disrupted as a result of some exercising the freedom to propagate their religion , the onus would be on the authorities to first establish the perpetrators of the disorder and than take suitable action against them as prescribed by law. Hindus , who are offended by any conversion that they see to have been bought or forced , should approach the courts and not play into the hands of blind zealots or criminals in the garb of patriots an indulge in the kind of violence that can shame the nation in the eyes of all. The state has no business to intervene in matters of faith; its duty is to provide its citizens with social and physical security . If people in remote areas, which are also economically  underdeveloped , are turning to the schools and other welfare facilities provided by missionaries of one or other religion, this is because the state has done little to provide them with alternatives.

It would be best, perhaps , if , instead of clamoring for the expulsion of foreign missionaries and the stopping of funds from aboard to Christian organizations. The Hindu activists turned their attention and energy to the task of giving the deprived sections of our population .equality with the other sections of the Hindu population. Let them devote their time to the construction of goods schools and devote their time to the construction of good schools and hospitals in the remote areas, and let them work among  the leprosy-afflicted and other neglected sections of the society. It is only then that these deprived sections will regain their faith in their original gods and not seek new gods who care for them.

There is one aspect that most debaters of the topic fail to notice. Rev. Valson Thampu has brought out this point: “ Scripturally, none can ‘convert’ another human being .. Stopping mercenary conversions, if indeed they happen, should be a greater priority for the Christian community than for their detractors. Seeing the as symptomatic of a national disease in which everything including human flesh and service can be bought and sold in the market should be a priority for the nation as a whole …. A debate should be distinguished not by the decibels it generates. But by a shared quest for truth in order to uphold and practice justice.”   

 

 

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