Nine Ways to Stop Conversions

Nine Ways to Stop Conversions

by Sanjeev Nayyar - Sunday, February 15, 2015 01:00 AM IST
Nine Ways to Stop Conversions

Thanks to “Ghar Vapasi” programs, the issue of conversions is in the news again. Unfortunately, no one seems to be going into the cause of conversions. Unless these are addressed, protests about conversions will influence only TRPs of TV channels

One,money power!

NGOs receive large contributions from foreign entities. These contributions from abroad are governed by the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) which requires the recipients to get prior approval from the Home Ministry (HM). The recipients could be religious, social, educational, cultural or educational organisations. The NGO has to annually submit audited accounts to HM who collate accounts to present the FCRA Annual Report. HM does a detailed check of randomly picked associations. The last available report is for the year 2011–12. Here are some key data:

– There are approx. 42,000 registered NGO’s.

– 148 organizations received more than Rs 10 crs (99 in 2005-06).

– Between 1993-94 to 2011-12 NGOs received Rs 1,16,073 crs.

Top five donors were Compassion International USA (Rs 183 crs), Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints USA (Rs 131 crs), KNH, Germany (Rs 52 crs), SOS Kinderdorf International, Austria (Rs 43 crs), General Conference Seventh Day Advent, USA (Rs 41 crs).

Top five recipients are World Vision of India Tamil Nadu (Rs 233 crs), Believers Church India Kerala (Rs 190 crs), Rural Development Trust Andhra Pradesh (Rs 144 crs), Indian Society of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Rs 131 crs) is Associate of Compassion Internal U.S.A., Foundation of India Delhi (Rs 130 crs).

The moot point is why are these organizations (biggest donors consistently USA, Germany and UK) pumping in billions for charity? Do they see the West as the sole custodian of poverty alleviation, education and health? As if donor countries are the epitome of prosperity, per capita incomes and social harmony! Read How AmeriKKKa Killed the Black Middle Class. 

Critics might argue that RSS/VHP also receive funding from abroad. There is a difference – they receive donations from Non-Resident Indians. Here the donors are Religious MNCs! Thus their contributions need to be regulated like foreign direct investment as articulated by ex IITian Sankrant Sanu. 

Conversions in Tamil Nadu and undivided Andhra Pradesh are rampant which are amongst the biggest recipients of foreign aid. From 2002-03 to 2011-12 TN received Rs 14,738 crs whilst AP got Rs 10,622 crs. (By the way Delhi got Rs 16,404 crs).

Donors might argue there are no free lunches for e.g. post Tsunami contributions to Tamil Nadu doubled and resulted in conversions as pointed out by Aravindan Neelakandan. Correct, but then did the Government invite these NGOs to assist in relief efforts?

On one hand Hindus are not governed by a Church like organization, do not pay tax to the Church like the Germans and, do not convert. Conversely the Church is super rich and well-organised where conversion is The Agenda. One believes in live and let live whilst the other is obsessed with spreading the Cross.

Those who talk about freedom to propagate religion and Article 25 of the Constitution must realize there is a fundamental difference in structure, thought and practice between the Followers of Dharma and Christianity. The former are well within their rights to frame laws based on their social systems and culture.

Critics might argue that nothing prevents Hindu Temples from spending money for the poor. Good point, the problem is temples are controlled by the Government, more about this later.

Critics could then refer to schools run by the Church. Notwithstanding that many of these schools were established by the British, (author went to a school established in 1871) some good work happens but the underlying agenda today, esp. in backward areas is conversion. The author was told this during visits to Jammu region, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh and saw Churches coming up all over!

Who is funding large-scale construction of churches and schools?

The above is substantiated by what former Infosys Director TV Mohandas Pai wrote, “I have a personal experience of evangelical groups trying to convert members of my family. Two house maids who converted said that the school where their children went raised fees and due to their inability to pay, they were told they would waive it if they converted (which they were forced to do). Of course, the school was rabid in their evangelism with these children. When asked, inevitably they spoke about evangelicals groups that gave them free education for children and paid their medical bills, provided they converted”.

Nationalists, who wrote the Constitution, surely did not foresee schools becoming an instrument of conversion when they granted minorities the right to establish and administer educational institutions under Article 30.

Critics might ask why does the government not monitor activities of NGOs? It is impossible to do so when there are nearly 42,000 organizations!

Thus, the Government must change the law to allow only Non-Resident Indians to donate to Indian NGOs. Donations to the Tibetan Cause would continue as is. If foreign organizations or governments want to help, say victims of natural calamities, they can donate to the Prime Ministers National Relief Fund.

Reputed NGOs like Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Aga Khan Foundation would need specific approval from the equivalent of a Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB). Further, rules on how NGOs would spend money must be clearly specified for e.g. no NGO should be allowed to research status of any community. Action Aid India’s Annual Report 2012-13 refers to National Study on the status of Muslims in India. Would UK permit a Rightist Think Tank to do a study on the condition of Muslims and Hindus in UK?

Missionaries don’t do forced conversions, they use money, waive school fees, medical costs in missionary hospitals for those who convert on the spot! They convert entire villages at a time, promising money, a school close by and medical facilities. Most importantly they promise depressed classes that they will be equals in their new religion. (Post conversion converts invariably realize nothing has changed).

An anti-conversion bill serves limited purpose because it is difficult to prove a forced conversion. Instead, stop the funding tap!!  

There will be endless columns by critics, debates on TV Channels, possible Supreme Court intervention, international pressure but the NDA government must stand atal if it does not want India to follow Sudan and become the next battleground between two Abrahamic religions. This is something NDA can learn from the Congress that passed retrograde laws against stiff opposition; this change is for the better!

Two, One of the reasons why the Hindu community does not have the resources to take on the formidable Church is because Hindu temples are under government control and in some states hundi collections are used for secular causes.

Indic scholar and Regents Professor of Computer Science Oklahoma State University Subhash Kak gave a background to current laws, “The state governments have based their policy on the recommendation of the Hindu Religious Endowments Commission headed by C P Ramaswamy Aiyer in 1960 that Hindu temples and maths be considered as belonging to the public. The government entered into the religious sphere when the Indian government was very aggressively pushing state control over all aspects of Indian life.

Here are a few examples of how temples are managed across the country.

According to TR Ramesh, President, Temple Worshippers Society Chennai “in Tamil Nadu temples have over 478,000 plus acres of land, 2.44 cr sq feet of property for which the TN HR & CE department gets only Rs 58 crs p.a. In reality income from all temples, mutts would, on a conservative basis generate Rs 6,000 crs p.a.”

In Kerala there are three Devasom Boards namely Malabar, Travancore and Cochin. Every board has nominees appointed by the Government. When the Marxists are in power they appoint one from CPI (M), CPI and coalition partner. When the Congress comes to power, they “balance it between Nairs, Ezhavas and a third community based on vote banks”. So technically the Government has no say in the management of temples but in effect controls through government appointed nominees.

Hundi collections, (eg Guruvayur approx Rs 100 crs p.a., Sabrimalai approx Rs 150 crs), are not spent on promoting Hindu culture/religion; benefit poor Hindus or opening hospitals/orphanages. Instead money is spent on what is called Construction and Development (widely believed to be a source of corruption).

In Karnataka hundi collections become income of the State government. Amount spent on temple upkeep and priest salaries are negligible.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar said, “There are as many as 2,07,000 temples in Karnataka and the total income of these temples amounts to Rs 72 crore only a sum of Rs. 6 crores is being spent by the Government for their upkeep. On the other hand, the Government spent a phenomenal amount of Rs.50 crores for the madrasas and Rs.10 crores for the churches, and for the Hindu temples only a partly sum of Rs.6 crores is being spent”. (Arsha Vidya Newsletter of Dec 2003).

This India Today report tells you of how poorly paid temple priests are, some as low Rs 349/ per month.

The newly elected TDP government in Andhra Pradesh passed an order nullifying all temple committees in the state. As per past practice temple committees were changed every time there was a change in government. However, the High Court nullified the government order.  

In most Southern states there are full-fledged ministries to manage temples. Should not the Government focus on poverty alleviation instead!

Take Mumbai’s Siddhivinayak Mandir. According to a report on NDTV dated 3/2/2004, USD 190,000 was transferred from temple trust to Dada Undalkar Smarak Samiti run by a politician. As per information collected under the RTI Act the trust donated Rs 10 lakhs for a Christian school at Shiroda in Sindhudurg district.

The Shri Mata Vaishnodevi Shrine Board has done a commendable job in building infrastructure at Vaishnodeviji. Why must its Chief Executive Officer be an IAS officer? Can it not be a non-government Hindu management professional instead?

Are Hindus competent to manage their temples? This is an offensive question because a similar question is not posed to other communities. Hindus have successfully managed their temples for hundreds of years. A contemporary example would be the privately run Women Sabarmalai Temple Attukal Temole where 25 lakhs women devotees collect every year.

Hindus should be allowed to spend temple income to conserve their culture, language, script, pay adequate salaries to priests, propagate Dharma, and maintain places of worship of all communities covered by The Hindu Marriage Act (i.e. Hindus, Buddhist, Jains and Sikhs i.e. HBJS) the last three of whom were not considered as minorities when the constitution was first adopted in 1950. However, Hindu charitable hospitals and schools would, like other communities, be open to all.

The law should provide that members of the Hindu community would manage their temples and use income for the preservation and promotion of HBJS Dharma. This includes imparting religious instruction in their schools. Temples would be subject to the same rules for funding and degree of government interference as is applicable to mosques and churches.

Since temples would be managed by Trusts they are answerable to the Charity Commissioner Office as is the case currently. The Courts can intervene in case of corruption charges filed by any Hindu.

Hindus seek only Equality before Law as provided for under Article 14 and Freedom to religious denominations to manage their own affairs in religion, establish institutions, acquire and administer such properties according to Article 26 of the Indian Constitution. Right to manage temples has to be an integral part of HBJS religions. The community is dynamic enough to uplift the lower sections of society when provided with a level playing field.

The Government could assist by creating a legal framework guaranteeing autonomy with checks and balances to ensure good management i.e. applicable to all.

Congress leader from Maharashtra and constitutional expert Dr. Shrikant Jitchkar wrote, “Church was the biggest landlord in the country and all of them get protected because of the Societies Registration Act of 1860, which was enacted by the British only for the purpose of protecting the church.” (Arsha Vidya Newsletter, Dec. 2003).

There are legal cobwebs, different across States, which must be unraveled to allow the Hindu community equal Human Rights.

Three, is caste.

Caste is a Spanish word which has no relevance to India. The Indian equivalent is Jati, which means family or clan lineage. Gandhian Dharampal wrote, “For the British, as perhaps for some others before them, caste has been a great obstacle, in fact, an unmitigated evil not because the British believed in casteless ness or subscribed to non-hierarchical system but because it stood in the way of their breaking Indian society, hindered the process of atomization, and made the task of conquest and governance more difficult”

An example of how successful the British were is that the Jats of Punjab are more concerned about their Sikh identity than uplifting poor SC Sikhs who have always been targeted by missionaries. They forget that it was to counter missionary activity that Swami Dayananda Saraswati, founder of Arya Samaj, left Gujarat for Punjab around 1877.

Hindu society needs a social revolution across the country that focuses on treating all varnas as equal, upliftment of the poorer sections of society, opening of adequate numbers of schools and health centres in every district. Indians must become more compassionate and share a large % of their wealth for the benefit of the poor.

This could be spearheaded by the Prime Minister as he has a rare capacity to motivate citizens into action, as evidenced by the manner in which the Swachh Bharat has become the fastest mass movement since independence.

Four, lack of economic growth, employment opportunities and poor governance. A hungry person will do anything to survive, even convert.

The Government, business and services communities must focus on increasing employment and growth rates. In times of natural calamities the Government must provide prompt and continuous support to affected people.

Let each one of us support those who want to acquire a skill e.g. my neighbor has started Sponsor a Driver Scheme where lift and watch men in our society who want to learn driving receive 50% of driving school fees from him. This way monthly income increases from say Rs 5,000/ to Rs 8-15,000/. Saroj availed of the scheme and has become a role model for others.

Socialism should be replaced by the new mantras of Compassion and Good Governance.

Five, benefits to Scheduled Tribes continue even after conversion to Christianity.

Under the Constitution scheduled castes who convert to Christianity cannot avail of benefits available to SC. However, this was omitted or overlooked in the case of Scheduled Tribes. As a result ST’s are targeted by missionaries. The locals of Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Nagaland personally expressed regret in this matter to the author.

During a recent visit to Kohima the author met with scheduled tribes, all Christian, who spoke English so well that the author got a complex. They do not pay any income-tax either. As there is no concept of Scheduled Tribes (or Scheduled Caste) in Christianity, all State benefits should be withdrawn post conversion.

The Church has used this lacuna to convert tribes on a large-scale in Nagaland, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Manipur, and Arunachal Pradesh and has now moved into the Hindi heartland. (Read 200 Mahadalits in Bodh Gaya convert to Christianity)

Six, introduction of Missionary Visas makes it easier for foreign missionaries, it is logical that conversions will follow.

“The UPA Government has quietly relaxed restrictions on the entry and stay of foreign missionaries coming to the country. These restrictions were enforced on the recommendations of the Niyogi Commission, appointed to investigate the activities of missionaries in Madhya Pradesh, which submitted its report to the Union Government in 1956. The missionary visa is issued to those going to India “for a religious purpose”.

During a visit to Manipur’s Senapati district the author saw a banner of the Mao Baptist Church Association program 16-18/1/2015 where one of the speakers was from West Virginia. Hindu Swamis visiting the US are not comparable as Hindus do not convert as an instrument of religious policy.

Needless to say this class of visa needs to be withdrawn immediately.

Seven, misuse of Hindu symbols by some Christians.

Hindu temples especially in the South have dwajastambha. On important occasions like temple festivals the temple flag is hoisted for the duration of the festival. During a visit to Sankara birthplace in Kalady, Kerala and in Jammu saw a dwajastambha with a cross.

There are similar instances of missionaries wearing saffron clothing in south India (obviously to mislead locals). A Ramakrishna Mission Monk who had worked in Arunachal Pradesh told me of missionaries who wore saffron clothes to tell local tribes that they were like Hindu monks. In Kerala is a Christian Ashram called Kurisumala Ashram. To know more

Saffron clothes, words Ashram and Swami, have certain meaning for the followers of Dharma. One is against the misrepresentation and misuse of Hindu symbols by sections of the Church. A poor person will not know the difference and could convert assuming both religions are similar. Use of Hindu symbols should be restricted to HBJS.

Critics will argue that we must welcome Hinduization of the Church. The right to permit use of Hindu symbols must lie with the Hindu community and cannot be unilaterally appropriated by Followers of the Book.

Eight, Convent schools hardly teach about Indian greats such as Panini, Aryabhata, Brahmagupta, Bhaskara II, Narayan Guru or literary works of Thiruvalluvar Tagore, Kabir, Tulsidas; instead they teach Shakespeare, Keats etc. Should Indians revere Western figures but know little about our own?

No wonder, on Facebook, I see friends quoting Western scholars! This is one of the reasons why there is so much resentment among educated Westernised Hindus towards Hinduism. A secular approach allows Christian institutions to hang a cross all over their schools, how many Indian schools have you see with an image of Saraswati?

We have to revamp education and make it more Indian. Critics must know that Secularism means ‘equal respect for all religions’ and not discriminating against Hindus.

Nine, the word Hindu came into existence to distinguish Muslim invaders from residents of India. With the Christian invasion Hindu became Hinduism.

The word Hinduism is not representative of the original word ‘Sanatana Dharmawhich means ‘the Eternal or Universal Dharma’. Dharma means universal law, the fundamental principles behind this marvelous universe like the Law of Karma. Sanatana means perennial, referring to eternal truths that manifests in ever-new names and forms.” Thus the word Hinduism is properly the Sanatana Dharma.

Post May 16, critics state that it is Majoritanism at work. During a recent visit to Shillong, the author got to know that all shops are closed on Sunday since the day is an Xtan holiday.

If President Obama could take his first oath of office by keeping one hand on the Bible and Sunday can be a holiday in Christian majority Shillong, can Hindus be faulted for demanding Equal Human Rights?

Will the NDA government ACT?

The writer is an independent columnist, travel photojournalist and chartered accountant, and founder of eSamskriti. He tweets at @sanjeev1927.

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