The Government of Haryana is mulling a ‘Freedom of Religion’ Bill to stop fraudulent conversions in the state.
Many Indian states (Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, to name a few) have enacted the Freedom of Religion Act.
In Tamil Nadu, Christian attacks on Hindu women in 1982 in Kanyakumari district combined with brazen attempts to change the name of Kanyakumari to ‘Kanni Mary’ led to an inquiry commission to recommend to the state government a legislation to prevent fraudulent and forced conversions.
The late J. Jayalalithaa even attempted to bring in such a legislation but the electoral reverses made her beat a hasty retreat.
Yet the question to be asked is how effective are these ‘freedom of religion’ Acts?
Despite them being in force even in border states like Arunachal Pradesh, proselytising activities of missionaries endangering local spiritual traditions have been on the rise.
How many cases have been observed in Odisha where proselytising activities in tribal communities have resulted in violent clashes?
The same is the case with Madhya Pradesh.
In most of these states, missionary activities, particularly among communities impoverished by colonial rule and the subsequent Nehruvian regime, have been going on in a big way, aided by foreign funding.
In conclusion, one needs to accept the sad fact that the 'freedom of religion' Acts make sound and noise but are mostly ineffective in curbing missionary activity on the ground.
What is even more dangerous is that the presence of such a law, which is very hard to implement, can always give Hindus a false sense of security and even eat into the vitality of the tree that is our national life.
The reason is not far to seek.
The ‘freedom of religion’ Acts come into operation only at a later stage in the conversion cycle.
When an individual or a group has decided to convert, the mind has already been made up.
Any intervention from the state is not only meaningless but also increases the resolve of the converted.
When a missionary is given a year in jail, or a fine of Rs 5,000 or Rs 50,000, that only helps to further enlarge his image as a martyr or a sufferer for the faith in the minds of the recently converted ‘believers’.
The Act should, therefore, target the real negativity in the conversion cycle, which commences right at the start — the hate campaign against the 'other’ religions.
Unfortunately, proselytisers of three religions in India — Christianity, Islam, and Marxism — indulge in such hate campaigns.
The religious preachers of these three religions intuitively also have the grasp of the truth that the very spirit of India mitigates against such monopolistic expansionism.
The very fact that a Muslim or a Christian can wish a Hindu on his or her religious festival and vice-versa is a negation of monopolistic expansionism.
The Indian situation makes that humanistic gesture possible and inevitable.
In other words, the very human situation in India, ‘Hinduises’ or ‘Indianizes’ the behaviour of ordinary followers of Christianity and Islam.
This is the greatest threat to the traders in soul of these three religions.
So, every conversion campaign to Christianity, Islam or Marxism/Maoism is also inescapably an implicit hate campaign against the Indian nation.
This, in turn, comes camouflaged through the colonial discourse.
Hinduism is seen as ‘nothing but’ caste inequalities and superstitions.
One should remember that not only do missionaries use this in their hate campaign, but this has been made part and parcel of quite a number of political dispensations in Indian polity.
For the present Congress leadership, Marxists and Dravidianists, the colonial negative stereotyping of Hindu Dharma is almost axiomatic.
The tendency to declare in public space one’s own religion as the ‘only true religion’ and one’s own god/prophet as the ‘only true god/prophet’ is as obnoxious as saying in public that one’s own mother is the only true good woman in the whole world.
The statement may be true for an individual in the space of his or her heart, but to say that in public is to insult the mother of every one else.
If someone displays such a statement even in the wall of one’s house, the person might be persecuted for insulting other women.
Then why should the nation suffer similar statements regarding religion in public space — hoardings which state that salvation is possible only through the only son or the only grand nephew of the only god?
The proposed legislation in Haryana, hence, should attack this aspect.
One can write a legislation that forbids any kind of religious propaganda that claims monopoly of truth in public space.
Demonstration of monopoly of faith in a multi-religious society is injurious to public health, harmony and morality, the law could read.
Hence, a conversion campaign has to be recognised for what it is — spreading of hatred against Hinduism.
And that is is essentially spreading of hatred against India.
Dharma includes respect for theo-diversity and protection of the weak.
From the Veda-Upanishads to Veer Savarkar, from Mahabharata to Mahatma Gandhi, India as a nation and civilisation has recognised the right of every individual to venerate the divine as per his or her own tradition and self-inquiry without external force and intimidation.
The greatest sacrifices in Indian history and Puranas have been done for this fundamental freedom.
From Guru Tegh Bahadur to Swami Shraddhanand, they all gave their lives for the protection of this freedom.
By enacting a law against forced and fraudulent conversions, the Haryana government is fulfilling its Dharmic duty towards its citizens. But by making the legislation holistic to include the prohibition of monopolistic propaganda in public space, the fulfilment of that aim will be complete and made practically effective, rather than being merely symbolic.
Any person, or more importantly, institution, violating this should be made to declare in public that they recognise and respect the right of every individual to follow any religion, as all religions are path to the divine.
Aravindan is a contributing editor at Swarajya.
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