India: Largest State Passes Law Curbing Religious Conversions

Jaipur, 7 April (AKI/Asian Age) – Rajasthan, India’s largest state, ruled by the Hindu Nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), enacted a law on Friday to stop religious conversions by means of allurement, greed or pressure. The state Assembly (parliament) passed the Religious Freedom Bill amid protests by the oppposition Congress party. Minority communities and human rights groups have also opposed the law.

The Assembly passed an amended version of the law with cosmetic changes. The new law contains stringent provisions and, under the law, anyone found engaging in conversion activities by means prohibited by the new law will be liable to be jailed for between two and five years. The act also has a provision to impose a fine of up to 1,124 dollars. It will be a non-bailable offence.

The issue rocked the state Assembly where Congress members opposed it, saying it had been introduced to target the minority communities, and had been formulated on the behest of Hindu radical organisations like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). After a furore in the parliament that last over an hour, Congress members staged a walkout.

The recent coverage of Abdul Rahman, the Afghan convert to Christianity who was threatened with a death sentence for apostacy from Islam, makes a compelling comparison with this story (from the AKI news agency) about similar issues in India.

As is the case in several Islamic countries, the religious fundamentalists in India–here, Hindu–take a dim view of conversion away from what’s seen as “the right religion.” Hindu violence against religious missionaries, primarily Christian, but also including others, does get reported in the Indian media, but is rarely picked up in the Western media unless it involves Westerners.

The problem, clearly, is not which religion is involved, but rather the fundamentalist view that the religious views of individuals are somehow the business of the community. It’s not a view held in the West, but is quite prevalent in the East. Not a clash of civilizations, but very different ways of organizing world views.

UPDATE: You might also look at this Washington Post article about a murder committedi n the name of suspicion about conversion efforts in Turkey. Of course, the religions involved hear are Christianity and Islam.

April:08:2006 - 17:35 | Comments & Trackbacks (6) | Permalink
6 Responses to “Comparison of Compulsion”
  1. 1
    Ashish Gupta Said:
    April:11:2006 - 09:02 

    Are you just looking for opportunity to prove that fundamentalists exist in other non-Islamic religions to divert the attention Islam is getting? What is wrong with simple wordings here: “stop religious conversions by means of allurement, greed or pressure”. Do you support convesion by coersion, allurement or pressure? What the hell is wrong in this simple wish. Law does not outlaw willing conversion, so what is the problem?

  2. 2
    John Said:
    April:11:2006 - 16:00 

    The problem is that fundamentalists–Muslim, Hindu, Christian–all play fast and loose with the terms “allurement, greed or pressure”, defining them to mean whatever they don’t like.

    When I was living in New Delhi, I read RSS materials complaining about “allurement” when all that was happening was a soup-kitchen open to feed the starving. I don’t consider that “allurement”. I consider it feeding the needy. I feel the same way about societies that prevent by force (even if only force of law) the distribution of religious materials for any and all religions.

    If the needy decide that Group X, which feeds the hungry, might be a better religion than Group Y, which does not feed the hungry, then there might be a reason for it. But that reason is not “allurement, greed or pressure”.

  3. 3
    Ashish Gupta Said:
    April:12:2006 - 13:47 

    So it is the misuse of law you are talking about, right? So lets agree law is NOT wrong. People who abuse law are. Please change your post to reflect that because as I see it, you are simply blaming the law.

    Regarding your “feeding the needy” thing, well if it is unconditional, then RSS would be outright wrong, but if it involves declration of Christian faith, or hail to Jesus or Mary, or anything with religious connection, then RSS would be right.

    I don’t know about you, but I have heard enough stories to know how Missionaries try to proselytize. But since I don’t have proof, and anecdotal evidence don’t count, I will not make any statement on their methods or intentions.

  4. 4
    John Said:
    April:12:2006 - 14:06 

    Ashish: No, I do criticize the law because it is too vague and open to mendacious interpretion. A law needs to be general to some extent, but it also has to be specific enough to be enforced fairly. That includes permitting those who might be prosecuted under it to know just what they can and cannot do, legally.

    I’ve not been a missionary, nor have I spent much time around them. But I have never seen pressures to convert in return for food or money. Nor have I seen anyone forcing specific prayers on the recipients of assistance.

    That this could happen is one thing; whether or not it actually does is another. Perhaps there are “bad” missionaries out there, but if there are, they are not the norm, both within my experience and my reading.

  5. 5
    swetha Said:
    May:03:2006 - 21:46 

    I doubt even the RSS believes that Hinduism is the “right religion.” The fundamentalists use a cultural rather than a religious argument – that conversions would bring in “foreign” religions (this is the no.1 argument you would hear from fundamentalists) not that Hinduism is the right religion (though they might believe that they are superior because of it). Just asking you to not semetize this religion which does not have one fixed theological doctrine (except for Karma and reincarnation). As you very well know, not all religions are the same or hold the same things (like theology) sacred.

  6. 6
    John Said:
    May:04:2006 - 07:52 

    I understand your point. But the RSS is promoting “Hindutva”, not any form of “Bharatva” (“Indian-ness”).

    Hinduism is many faceted and it would be, as you suggest, pretty difficult to nail the RSS down to exactly what they believed. But they are willing to use violence to protect the sanctity of former temples to Vishnu, Krishna, and other of the “major gods”.

    My point is that using religion (even vaguely) to promote political purpose is a mistake. At one time it was said that “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel”. This century, it seems that religion takes the place of patriotism.

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