Religious conversions: Don't people have a right to change their faith?
Features Saturday, March 21, 2015 - 05:30
Dr. Ashok Prasad Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.-Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (United Nations). I have been observing the developments and debate over the matter of religious conversions of Muslims to Hinduism with a sense of dismay. All the television debates I have witnessed have for some reason or the other shied away from the most pertinent dimension that should have steered this debate. Almost every debate and discussion both in the print media as well as the television has tended to concentrate on the monstrosity of the actual conversions that have taken place versus the inherent right of an individual to change his/her appellated faith. Some of the participants in these encounters never had any qualms making it the whole exercise farcical. Prime example of this tendency was a protagonist who stated that as almost all the Muslims /Christians were converts from Hinduism, the phenomenon in question should not be seen as 'conversion' but 'home-coming!' What he conveniently forgot to mention was most of the earlier conversions had taken place centuries ago and its relevance in contemporary context would only be minimal. I was also left wondering why the very common practice of raising a son within the Hindu household as a Sikh was never touched upon. Surely that is a form of religious conversion Somewhat unconvincing was the plea put up by the other side viz. all the conversions were the result of false inducements .Admittedly some of the positions taken by the likes of Adityanath were deeply provocative and incendiary but this is hardly a new phenomenon. Togadia and his ilk have been at this for ages and while I am one of those who would like to see them brought to book ,I think that is the price we have to learn to pay for democracy. People like Togadia and Adityanath have a symbiotic relationship with the Azam Khans and the Owaisis, notwithstanding their public diatribes against each other. That having been said, I do not recall the public being presented with any proof establishing fraudulent inducement that would stand up in a court of law. As stated in the United Nations Charter I have cited, freedom to change religion is an integral part of the United Nations Declaration and any attempt to tamper with it, as proposed by the BJP, would run counter to an agreement which India has already ratified. But it is here that nearly all the anchors made a slip. Freedom to change one's stated religion is guaranteed effectively under the UN Charter. And so is the freedom to re-convert to the original religion. Theoretically one could convert to any religion and then reconvert whenever he/she so wished and as many times so desired without any legal bar. For arguments sake, if the recent conversions were indeed a consequence of fraudulent inducements, it would be perfectly in order for those who have converted to re-convert to their original religion within the next ten days. The people who brought about the conversions (if that is what they were ) would have no locus standi to complain and legally not be in a position to claim refund of fiscal inducements if there were any. It is this dimension that needed to be highlighted but was not in at least any of the debates I had witnessed. The best that the state can do is to emphasize this right-and make sure that in exercising this right of their own volition, there are no illegal roadblocks placed. The closest anyone came to this position was Sanjay Hegde who in a debate on Times Now stated that inducements were an integral part of our society and frequently take place during the electoral process. Why should we object when they are being practiced in the religious sphere as religion is (or should be) just as much a pillar of identity as affiliation to a political party. Do we ,as a society tend to operate on a bartered conscience! A very sad commentary indeed! Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this articles are the personal opinions of the author. The News Minute is not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, suitability or validity of any information in this article. The information, facts or opinions appearing in this article do not reflect the views of The News Minute and The News Minute does not assume any liability on the same. Tweet