The intent of Article 25 is to empower the individual citizen to follow his own conscience in religious matters.
It does not imply that ‘multinational corporations’, which includes NGOs funded by foreign entities or churches or mosques, can spend billions of dollars to propagate their version of religion.
The Home Ministry’s decision to ask non-government organisations (NGOs) that receive foreign funding to declare that they have not been prosecuted or convicted for converting citizens from one faith to another has got the usual Lutyens-Left suspects frothing at the mouth.
All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen chief Asaduddin Owaisi went one step further, claiming on Twitter that this decision was a “violation of article 25”, which proclaims the right to religious freedom.
Article 25, inter alia, has this to say:
“25. Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion
“(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 freely to profess, practise and propagate religion.”
Owaisi went on to claim that the changes made by the Home Ministry to the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Rules 2011 “also violates the International Religious Freedom Act of USA; it might ensure downgrading to lowest level in USCIRF to Tier 3 (country of part concern)…”.
It is interesting that Owaisi has showed touching concern for the Indian government’s need to comply with a US law, which has no applicability here. If USCIRF (the US Council for International Religious Freedom) wants to lower our rating to a third tier, so be it. India and Indians are not bound by US laws and concerns, but our own. The demand that India must comply with US law is no different from some Muslims demanding that they must be governed by Sharia, and not the Indian Constitution.
So, if at all we need to examine the objections of Owaisi and his ilk, it must be against the intentions of Article 25, not US laws.
Let us start with the obvious. Many Indian states have banned religious conversions, and the courts have upheld their validity. So, conversion bans through inducement and fraud, even assuming you don’t believe in them, have passed constitutional muster. Owaisi is thus wrong to presume that changes to NGO rules that merely require them to declare that they have not been convicted for conversion activities is somehow unconstitutional. This is no different from having to declare the court cases against you in election affidavits, or disclosure of any convictions when you apply for a passport or visa.
But even if you believe that everyone has the right to convert, Article 25 does not help. The article only guarantees that “all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion.”
This right is that of natural “persons”, and does not in any way cover the rights of “non-natural persons” like NGOs or multinational organisations to use foreign funds for conversion activities. Domestic funds can anyway be used for the same.
Just as any sovereign government has the right to decide when and where foreign funds can be used in commercial activities, a sovereign can equally decide to limit the influence of foreign peddlers of religious dogma. For this, they can use their own locally-sourced resources, if they so want. One can go further and assert that Article 25 cannot prevent the government from fully banning the use of foreign funds by NGOs.
The intent of Article 25 is to empower the individual citizen to follow his own conscience in religious matters. It does not imply that giant multinational corporations can spend billions of dollars to propagate their version of religion.
One has used the word “multinational corporations” deliberately to include NGOs funded by foreign entities or churches or mosques. NGOs are nothing but corporations which do not seek to earn a profit from their activities. Their dividends come from psychic payoffs, including conversions or the social or spiritual upliftment of a human being.
When NGOs are funded from abroad for conversion activities, they are essentially multinational subsidiaries with objectives similar to those of their financiers, who may be churches or mosques, or organisations devoted to religious expansion of a denomination or faith in new territories. They are Colgate and P&G by another name, the only difference being that they do not seek economic profits, but psychic ones.
True religious freedom is about individual rights, and the concomitant rights of groups of individuals operating together in this country. It is not a corporate right.
Assuming one is not convinced by these arguments, there is this unbeatable one: the lack of a level playing field for Hindus under Article 25, which applies only to minorities. Article 25, in the way it has been applied in India, essentially denies Hindus the same rights as minorities, violating a more important right under Article 14, which guarantees equality before the law.
Ask yourself: can Hindus, unequivocally, be said to have the same rights as minorities “to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion?”
While all Hindus can profess and practice their religion, the right to propagate has been effectively and substantially curbed. Religion is propagated largely through the earnings of places of worship. This means churches and mosques are the drivers of religious conversions in Christianity and Islam.
While some Hindu temples are indeed free to do so, the richest temples, especially in south India, and increasingly elsewhere, are controlled by the state. Over 100,000 temples are under state control in the five southern states alone, and more are being added every year.
One has to ask a simple question: if the state wants to control temples, it must equally facilitate conversions from Christianity and Islam to Hinduism, since Hindus have as much right to propagate as the others. If the state is barred from favouring any religion, it follows that only Hindus are handicapped by being refused control of their temples and effectively the right to propagate their religion.
The ultimate argument, that the declaration sought by the Home Ministry from NGO office-bearers discriminates against Christianity and Islam is, of course, plain rubbish. The law does not allow Hindus to use foreign funds to convert either.
The Home Ministry amendment passes every criticism against it. If at all it can be criticised, it must be on the ground that it is very timid. It should have banned all foreign donations for conversions altogether.