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Conversions: An issue since history

The Indian constitution is one with secular values. It supports and validates every religion on the Indian land. Indian secularism doesn’t distance the government from the religious aspect of the society but instead encourages the government to promote every religion and support every religion. The Indian administration also makes legislation in consideration of the religious aspects, it does not ignore and hurt the religious sentiments of its people.

In India, it is the fundamental right of every person, to not face any discrimination on the basis of one’s religion. There can be no differentiation based on religion in public jobs or admission in schools or entering a public place or in any other situation. However, religion can be, for some jobs, specified as a qualification. The Indian constitution, unlike many Islamic states, also provides protection to the minorities. It also includes some special privileges, like setting up minority institutions, which are not given to majority, in this case Hindus.

It is the right of every individual in this country to freely profess, practice, and propagate one’s religion. Nevertheless, nobody has the right to spread violence in the name of religion or sort to forced religious conversions. The word ‘propagate’ in the constitutional right supports the idea that a person practicing a religion can openly talk about it and promote it peacefully. It does not authorize any individual or organization to force people for religious conversions.

Religious conversions when done by an individual by his or her choice are not an issue. But when these are done forcefully or manipulatively, to fuel propaganda then they become a concerning point.

The problem of conversion is not novel, it is deep-rooted in Indian society. Since medieval times, conversions have been happening. Before the Mughals, Indian society was majorly followers of Hinduism or Buddhism. After the incoming of the Mughals, they started conversions into Islam. Non-Muslim taxes were applied which further provoked followers of other faiths to convert. Although conversions were happening in the reigns of all other kings, it was the highest during the rule of Aurangzeb. He was the cruelest of all and focused very highly on religious conversions.

Conversion into Christianity in India started in the 18th Century, after the arrival of the western powers. Western imperialism began, and along with it Christian missionaries became active in India and other parts of the world too. People were brainwashed or forced to convert to Christianity. Christianity consistently claimed to ‘civilize’ the Indians and attacked Hinduism with tools of the caste system and idol worship. They claimed that Christianity spread brotherhood and self-righteousness.

Conversions are usually supported with the idea of doing good to the world and with the aim of doing ‘socio-economic good’ in mostly developing and under-developed countries. The missionary organizations aim at the conflict-ridden areas with the message of providing humanitarian relief. Both Islam and Christian conversions in India over history involved the destruction of Hindu temples and massacres. The people had to choose between conversion and death. In Mughal times and colonial times, coverts were given allowances and posts in the administration which encouraged them even more.

During the colonial times British claimed Christianity to be superior and had faiths like Hinduism and Islam termed inferior. The British viceroys like William Hastings, Lord Macaulay used rather intellectual ways of refuting Hinduism. They also very well planned the divide and rule between Hindus and Muslims. The communalism that exists in India today was given birth in that era.

Many Indian freedom fighters were also against conversions during the period of freedom struggle. One of them was Mahatma Gandhi. In an article in Young India dated April 23, 1931, Gandhi wrote: “Every nation considers its own faith to be as good as that of any other. Certainly, the great faiths held by the people of India are adequate for her people. India stands in no need of conversions from one faith to another.”

During the time of partition, Indian land was divided into two nations. One chose to be an Islamic state and ours chose to be a secular country. It was the divide and rule policy of Britishers that led to this situation at that time. But, in the modern world, some fear that a higher rate of conversions may lead to a demand for a separate nation again. A nation is a summation of people who feel one. And in India, the diversity of religious beliefs sometimes leads to conflicts and people feeling NOT INDIAN, BUT HINDUS AND MUSLIMS AND SIKHS.

In the past few months, the issue of conversion has been brought up in Uttar Pradesh especially. Some say that ‘dharmantarn’ is a threat to the security of India. And it is not surprising to think so, as conversion is seen as serious a issue, having the potential to destabilize the nation.

The state of Uttar Pradesh, along with few other states also passed legislation against ‘love jihad’. Love Jihad is a belief that a Muslim man marries women of other religions with the motive of converting them to Islam. This concept is not new, instead, it was first brought up in 2009 in Kerala.

A supreme court judgement in this regard, given in 1977, held that “there is no fundamental right to convert another person to one’s own religion because if a person purposely undertakes the conversion of another person to his religion… that would impinge on the freedom of conscience guaranteed to all citizens.”

People following various faiths are very sensitive about their religious beliefs. Every religion is thought to be superior to the others by its believers. The extremists are still proselytizing, against which actions should surely be taken, as this hinders the freedom of people to choose their faith and also leads to superstitions.

In this modern-secular world, people are trying to be delicate about other religions. They are trying to look away from all the biases and understand the cultural values and religiousness of every faith. There are things to learn from every religion and lead a better way of life rather than fighting for the supremacy of one’s own god.  

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Tags: #religion #communalism #conversions #islam #christianity


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