Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Regulating Conversions?

The preamble of our Constitution guarantees every Indian the liberty of thought, belief, expression, faith and worship. Further, Article 25 of the Constitution says that all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion.

The right to propagate religion creates controversies every once in a while. Because propagation naturally leads to conversion sooner or later. Mass conversions always give rise to allegations of coercion and bribery. Even individual conversions are not always above such accusations.

Should the religious sector be regulated? There is a school of thought which believes that there should be a 'cooling off' period required under law to protect the rights of all vendors and consumers. Vendors in this case being the various religions vying for the individual's soul and the consumer being the individual, who should be protected from making vital decisions in the heat of the moment, or under the influence of bribery or coercion. Thus giving all religions an equal opportunity to present their case during the 'cooling off' period, before the individual takes a final decision on whether to convert or not.

There is another school of thought which believes that the state should not take part in any such exercise, but instead insist upon all religions putting their minds together and coming up with a regulatory body to oversee conversions. A self-regulating body formed by all religions, which sets up the code of conduct for conversions, is the best answer to this perennial question according to them.

And then there are those who believe that the state should not do anything at all and let things continue as they are. Because they believe that any regulation would be an encroachment on individual liberties. Why question only religious conversions, why not political ones as well, and then what about career changes by professionals? They too are conversions of a sort. Sooner or later, they feel you will be asking the state to regulate what to cook on which day too.

Should the state just be concerned with maintaining law and order, or do we need some sort of regulatory mechanism to oversee religious conversions? I would like to hear your thoughts on this.

9 comments:

Bones said...

I don't believe that the State should interfere in religious matters as long as there is no violence...
Take the eg. of tribals in Orissa...Rightwing Hindu organizations say that Christian missionaries 'bribe' them to convert by giving them food, shelter and medical care...This may be so but look at it from the point of view of the tribals...These guys are so poor that they don't care if they follow Christianity as long as they and their families get food and shelter...I mean, if the Hindus were so concerned about them, shouldn't they be providing them with these basic necessities?

Indyeah said...

Yes,my belief too is that the state should stay out of the religious arena..and only interfere if it turns violent...that is when law and order are broken...and never heard it being put like this..
''Vendors in this case being the various religions vying for the individual's soul and the consumer being the individual, who should be protected from making vital decisions in the heat of the moment, or under the influence of bribery or coercion.''
and yet as cheap and marketing gimmick like it might sound this is what religions have become today..

Vinod_Sharma said...

This is a complicated issue, no easy answers. The only abnormality in the situation is that one religion has no vendors; it does not believe in peddling its wares, a position that was taken thousands of years ago when there were no competing vendors trying to take its customers away. Which means that all conversions have to be from Hinduism to Islam and Christianity and none to it.

Is this 'free trade'?

manju said...

This is my view-

Regarding Hindus in India there has never been any conflict between 'Swadharma' and 'Swadesh'.

On the contrary, where followers of other religions have gained a majority in any area/ state in india, immediately a demand for a separate, sovereign nation for the people of that religion is made.

Conversions in India are political in nature, mass conversions orchestrated for political gain. So the remedy should also be political.

This is my view- I do not expect many to agree with me!

Sagarone said...

@Bones, @Indyeah, @Vinod and @Manju: Thanks for expressing your views. This is a complicated issue for sure, Vinod. And there are no easy answers. But sooner or later, India will have to take a stance on this issue. And it has to be taken at the earliest, because mass conversions lead to confrontation, which alienates peoples and endangers the unity of our nation.

Balvinder Singh said...

What i feel is that in the modern world conversion are the not as much the result of forcing it on someone as one's hate for the practices followed in the one's existing religion.

To prevent mass conversion a particular religion has to be open minded. Most of the followers convert because of ill treatment meted out to them in their own religion.

Mavin said...

Hello Sagarone

This is a very tricky issue.

Yes, the Constitution has provided this to project a secular approach of the government as distinct from a theocratic state. So far so good.

Any freedom that has is granted is never unfettered and a sense of responsibility is put on a person seeking to enjoy this freedom. This is the unwritten part of any legal jurisprudence.

Now let us look at the actual situation. Our society was just getting out of "foreign rule" so to say after 150 years or so.

Deep prejudices existed then and exist even now. The right of free propagation is a great issue to divert attention to non-issues. Anyway, some states have by legislating the Freedom of Religion Act have reduced this constitutional freedom.

Further religion can be an explosive and emotive issue as we have repeatedly seen in the past. It may be appropriate to have some sort of a check on this rather than leave it to social forces so to say.

Sagarone said...

@Mavin, yes I agree with what you say, and I would prefer a self regulating body representing all religions taking care of this issue.

Anupam Sarwaikar said...

I am a big supporter of no government intervention and self regulation and marketing by religions themselves it they wish to.

But Manju has raised a valid point

"On the contrary, where followers of other religions have gained a majority in any area/ state in india, immediately a demand for a separate, sovereign nation for the people of that religion is made. "

But at that point it becomes a national security issue and government is free to intervene.