A conversation about secularism, conversion and the nature of religion
If the Hindu upper castes were to be civilized in their treatment of the lower castes would they now seek to escape from the social tyranny of the so-called Hindu society?
Mohan Guruswamy Delhi
When J Jayalalithaa opened up the debate on conversions by passing an ordinance during her previous tenure as Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu that made the choice of faith subject to the State’s approval, not surprisingly, the VHP, RSS and the BJP hailed it as a great achievement. And not surprisingly their Muslim and Christian counterparts severely castigated it. To all these organizations religion is not just a matter about heaven and hell and who gets to go where, but about power and profit. Modern religions are akin to great commercial enterprises like Coke and Pepsi constantly seeking greater market share while retaining the faith of existing customers.
It is the consequent faith, mostly induced and sustained by these exertions, which sustain the huge uniformed bureaucracies and extravagantly titled organizations that are the edifices of our major religions. Witness the recent no holds barred struggle for the control of the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) in Delhi, which was nothing if not about getting ones hands on the huge assets and cash flow of the gurudwaras. At least the Sikhs go about it democratically, in a manner of speaking. But all the great Hindu, Muslim and Christian institutions are beyond the grasp of even their most faithful.
It is indeed unfortunate that debates on religion and faith are no longer about goodness and decency or even present day social concerns. But that is not for discussion now. At stake is something much more important.
The acceptance of democracy as a way of life implies that we have accepted that we hold certain rights to be inalienable. The Indian Constitution therefore guarantees justice, liberty and equality. The rights emanating from these are considered fundamental to our being a free and democratic society. These fundamental rights, therefore, are inviolable in the sense that no law, ordinance, custom, usage or administrative order can ever abridge or take away any of them. The preamble elaborates liberty to be that of “thought, expression, belief, faith and worship” leaving little room for ambiguity. Like Hinduism’s eternal truths these are eternal rights. Without these rights we will be no different than a Saudi Arabia or North Korea!
Consequently, Article 19 guarantees the people of India seven fundamental freedoms. These are (a) freedom of speech and expression; (b) freedom of assembly; (c) freedom of association; (d) freedom of movement; (e) freedom of residence and settlement; (f) freedom of property; and (g) freedom of profession, occupation, trade or business. Article 25 guarantees “freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion.”
This very simply means that people are free to believe whatever they may want to, convert others to this belief and perform whatever rituals or ceremonies that are required by one's faith. In even more simple words, people are free to be Christians or Muslims or Hindus or whatever, free to preach and convert. Or that matter even Marxism which now is no different than any faith with its own depleted philosophy and impossible mythology. So what is there to debate about conversion? This right is inviolable and is guaranteed by the Constitution and so there is nothing to debate.