By Krishna Koundaniya
Edited by Anjini Chandra, Senior Editor, The Indian Economist
India is contradicting itself; progressing and regressing at breakneck speed, all at the same time. We have recently sent the cheapest mission to Mars, have mastered the cryogenic rocket engine and have an economy growing at a reasonable rate for an emerging economy. Liberal values are percolating into the social fabric and a greater awareness of Human Rights. On the other hand, we have foolhardiness of the far right who think that they are championing the cause of the majority, without an iota of understanding of the values of the religion they stand for.
The constitutional founding fathers envisioned our newly born country to be raised in an Indian version of secularism. This definition of secularism is vastly different from what we get to see in the West. The Western definition is only the separation of religion and polity but in India it goes beyond that. It is to foster diversity and truly accept others, as this civilization has done for thousands of years. However, at each stage of evolution there exist different sections of society, some who embrace change and others who prefer status quo, or regression.
Article 25 of the Indian Constitution guarantees that every citizen will have the fundamental right to “practice, profess and propagate” any religion of their choice. Various constitutional committee debates reveal that this right does not include proselytizing. This was confirmed in the Stanislaus vs State of Madhya Pradesh (AIR 1977 SC 908) case, where the High Court clarified that the right to propagate does not include the right to forcibly convert others. Hence, we have to make a clear distinction between proselytizing and professing. Without going into theological and epistemological arguments, if we consider the effects of today's right wing’s antics, from a sociological point of view, it becomes clear that the ramifications would be far reaching.
Historically, the conversion from Hinduism into Christianity and Islam was done due to two reasons- social and economic. The social reason is that it was supposed to function as an escape route, for the downtrodden and underprivileged. Even the evangelists showcase Christianity as an antidote to the caste system, as Christianity stands for egalitarianism and so does its Abrahamic twin Islam. However,converts never realized that even after conversion, discrimination does exist.
The Mandal Commission report states that in the presence of Syrian Christians, who are from a higher caste, Harijan Christians should remove their headdress. This is just one example and in every religion and community, rampant discrimination is present. Islam also developed a caste system of its own.
The economic reason is simple inducement. Medical aid, grants, loans etc. were supposed to be provided to the converts, but not all received it. In fact, there are some missionary organizations which work in a corporate style. They look for the number of converts and the money spent, which is usually driven by the West, and arrive at the ratio of money spent to convert one person. However, after conversion, many families do not have access to the same benefits that, for example, the dalits get from the government, and this gives rise to resentment.
As the social and economic reasons are no longer valid, the charm and enticement no longer exists and reality dawns. This is where the Ghar Wapsi drive hits home. This drive offers two benefits; the converts can choose the caste of their choice, which attacks the social cause of conversion, and the converts will get Below Poverty Cards, reservations and quotas as per their caste, which addresses the economic reason. This is a very well planned out strategy by the VHP, also evident in the fact that they named it 'Ghar Wapsi' and not reconversion.
Now, it is needless to say that this has tremendous potential to flare up into communal tension. There could very well be a backlash from the minorities, which may even result in internal instability and external threats to national security.
Had Ghar Wapsi been a healthy debate with an exposition of ideas, leading to a change of heart, it would not have been an issue. However, reports state that the drive involves deceit, inducement and force. As per the previous judgements, it is also clear that the drive is not constitutional. The drive has also reignited the acrimonious debate on conversion. Some Members of Parliament have called for a ban on conversion. If such a legislation sees the light of day, it would cut the Fundamental Right to Religious Freedom at its roots and will be struck down as unconstitutional. It is now up to the citizens of India, to uphold their rights but at the same time be conscious of the repercussions of their actions.
Krishna Koundiniya is an entrepreneur, Co-Founder of an e-Commerce start up. He holds MBA from IMT–Ghaziabad, B Tech gold medallist, state level boxer, cricketer, amateur musician & graphologist (AP Judiciary). He worked with Deloitte, Infosys, Vizag Steel specializing in IT, Finance. He assisted CFO, GMs in financial valuations and planning. He co-founded a robotics platform for R&D and successfully implemented home automation projects, car tracking and vibration test rigs using smart phone, https://www.facebook.com/krishna.koundinya.7,firstname.lastname@example.org.