Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Conversion and Christianity

Are propagation and conversion part of Christianity? Even though the Supreme Court's judgment in the Rev.Stainslaus case laid down that Article 25 does not include the right to convert, it appeared to me after reading Seervai, that the Orissa High Court judgment upholding conversion as part of Christianity, which was challenged in Stainslaus, is still the valid law, as Stainslaus did not specifically address the issue. Here is my article on the issue.

4 comments:

Dilip said...

Stainislaus is actually quite confusing - the trouble, it seems to me, is that the court did not bother to define conversion or the right to convert in the first place.

Conversion as understood here involves two aspects - the first is the right to persuade someone to convert which is covered by the right to propagate and the second is the individual being persuaded by the argument and deciding to practice a different religion, i.e. the actual act of conversion. The court, in this instance, independently upheld both rights and yet stated confusingly and to the contrary, that a fundamental right to convert does not exist.

The court defined propagation correctly and held that one can freely articulate one's own views of their religion. But there is also the right to practice religion which obviously means a choice of religion including a right to convert from one to another. The right to convert, it seems, falls more within this aspect of 25(1) and ought to apply not only to Christianity but to every other religion as well - this, I suppose, is what the court meant when it referred to the freedom of conscience.

What the Orissa legislation is talking about when it uses the word 'covert' in the sense of converting someone appears to be the right to persuade someone to covert which, as you have correctly pointed out, comes within the ambit of the right to propagate.

On the question of why the public order limitation should not apply, the argument is more debatable. If the distinction between a simple breach of law and order and a violation of the public order is one of degree, the recent acts of violence only add to the justification for such an act. Even if the purpose is vaguely stated in the objects and reasons, the actual provisions of these legislations, it appears that the provisions themselves are relatively clear - force, fraud and allurement have all been defined. The state enactments ought to therefore pass rational basis inquiry.

Anonymous said...

Why is the word proselytize never, or very sparingly used instead of convert which is confusing? Proselytize means to induce someone to convert to one's own faith and it is this right -- espoused mostly by Christian missionaries -- which has been the target of most legislations.

A couple of points:

1. There are countries which grant the right to practice own's one religion and even convert to another but do restrict the right to proselytize. Israel is a good example. Mordechai Vanunu is an example of a Jew converting to Christianity. Regarding proselytization, I think Israel allows one to hand out literature but that's all. Closer to home, I think Pakistan does recognize the right to practice their religion for such groups as Hindus, Christians and Parsis. As we know, some from these groups have risen to very high positions. Indeed, two of the best known judges in Pakistan have been a Christian (Judge Cornelius) and a Hindu (Judge Bhagwan Das). I doubt, though, that Pakistan recognizes the right to propagate for any group other than Muslims.

2. I do remember reading - don't know where - that the question of whether the right to religion should include the right to propagate also was debated in our Constituent Assembly. It was included - from what I remember reading - on the basis of Christian members insisting that propagation was a fundamental tenet of their faith.

3. Historically, propagation has always been a part of the Indian scenario even before the arrival of Islam. How else are we to explain the fact that Buddhism first spread over a large swathe of the subcontinent and then disappeared? Or consider Manipur whose local faith was supplanted by Vaishnavism under the influence of Chaitanya. (This happened to the extent that even the traditional Manipuri script (Mayek) was discarded in favour of Bengali!)

4. The right to proselytize is a tricky issue but I think it is worthy of debate. Personally, I am in favour of allowing it - please note, though, that one cannot then object to the reconversion projects of the RSS/VHP so long as they are in confirmity with the law. However, I think this is more a political rather than religious or even legal issue, and it has to be dealt with through the political system rather than through the judiciary.

ravi srinivas said...

Conversion of tribals threatens the survival of cultures that are already endangered.So the right to convert cannot be taken as a fundamental right.No harm will be
done if it is accepted that conversion from one religion or faith should not be practised in India by those who propogate religious faith. This will go a long way in creating better
understanding and mutual respect
among people of different faiths.

Conversion is a form of erasure of cultures and if it is a fundamental right then weak cultures and indigenous/tribal
faiths need protection.I would
advocate a strong act that would
bar missionary work that results
in conversion in specified places
where the tribals live or where
the cultures are in danger.I would
also advocate that converting tribals into 'Hindus' and making
them worship Rama or Shiva should
also be shunned.
This is much more than a question of interpretting some provisions
of the Constitution.It is a question of survival of marginal
cultures and the right to cultural
identity.The so called secularists and leftists do not at all understand the real issue.They
refuse to understand the need for
protecting cultures and the need
to maintain cultural diversity.
Just because Sangh Parivar opposes
conversion, one cannot support conversion as a fundamental right.

ravi srinivas said...

Conversion of tribals threatens the survival of cultures that are already endangered.So the right to convert cannot be taken as a fundamental right.No harm will be
done if it is accepted that conversion from one religion or faith should not be practised in India by those who propogate religious faith. This will go a long way in creating better
understanding and mutual respect
among people of different faiths.

Conversion is a form of erasure of cultures and if it is a fundamental right then weak cultures and indigenous/tribal
faiths need protection.I would
advocate a strong act that would
bar missionary work that results
in conversion in specified places
where the tribals live or where
the cultures are in danger.I would
also advocate that converting tribals into 'Hindus' and making
them worship Rama or Shiva should
also be shunned.
This is much more than a question of interpretting some provisions
of the Constitution.It is a question of survival of marginal
cultures and the right to cultural
identity.The so called secularists and leftists do not at all understand the real issue.They
refuse to understand the need for
protecting cultures and the need
to maintain cultural diversity.
Just because Sangh Parivar opposes
conversion, one cannot support conversion as a fundamental right.