Sunday, October 27, 2002
The families of the Dalits lynched at Jhajjar convert to Buddhism and Islam. Kinda takes the sheen off rightist arguments against conversion, doesn't it?
posted by Kensy |
Meanwhile, I was watching this show called The Big Fight on STAR News Saturday night. The topic under debate was whether Jayalalitha's conversion ordinance should be extended to other states as well. The three participants of the debate were - a priest-representative of the CBCI, Ashok Singhal (VHP) and a certain Mrs. Natarajan (Congress-I). First up, some general comments: Natarajan was easily the most logical, knowledgeable and rational of the three. Singhal had come prepared with reams of documentation (such as the apology letter of the principal of a Catholic school in MP who had forced non-Christian students to sign over their acceptance of Christ as Saviour). The priest (who appeared to be Tamilian) had excellent logic in the first part of the debate, but failed miserably to handle the audience questions (Granted, the audience did seem a bit hostile towards missionaries).
So, what emerged from the discussion?
1. The main problem with the Ordinance is the clause on "allurement". Somehow, Singhal did not find it incongruous that annadaanam (free rice) given out at Hindu temples under Jayalalitha do not constitute "allurement", while Christian freebies do. When a Christian missionary converts a person warning him of "divine displeasure", that's force; but not if a Hindu cleric does it.
2. Existing IPC sections on force, fraud etc are sufficient to handle the problem of forced conversions. The only reason Jayalalitha needed this ordinance was to suck up to the BJP.
3. The key focus should be on the underlying reason (some sections in society such as Dalits are marginalised and oppressed, as the Jhajjar incident shows) rather than the symptoms (mass conversions). That the ordinance points out special punishment for those converting Dalits only seems to prove this point.
Nevertheless, there are some points that I think the Church (CBCI) should've pressed:
1. The real point of opposition is not the entire ordinance per se, but the portion dealing with "allurement". I wonder why the Church has not stressed this point. After all, the Church already opposes forcible (pertaining to physical force, of course!) conversions!
2. The threat of "divine displeasure", although seemingly a kind of force, is really the natural outcome of religion. After all, how can a person be scared into converting because "God might send him to hell" unless he believes a priori that both "God" and "Hell" exists? Such a person has already converted! Think about it.
3. When we speak of allurement or force, it is only right that this be restricted to the physical/material realm. After all, even baptised Christians have to face the threat of divine displeasure/retribution! Not only that, but isn't the purpose of every religion some sort of salvation? How is promising salvation, then, an "allurement"?
One of the most interesting things about Singhal's invectives was that he calls reconversion "deconversion". According to him, the shuddi ceremony is a pure religious affair while the baptism is a political one! To me, it seemed clear that he had clearly lost the ability to look at this issue objectively.