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Conversion Termed “Illegal”: An Assault of
Indian Secularism And Democracy

By Madhu Chandra

29 July, 2010

Preamble of Indian Constitution as SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC provides to secure to all its citizens: JUSTICE – social, economic and political; LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; EQUALITY of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all. Under the preamble of the constitution, every citizen of India has liberty to embrace the faith, religion one likes and propagate freely but the defending lawyer of Kandhmal riot 2008 has termed a victim an “Illegal Convert”.

Kumud Naik a-30-years-old deposed before the session court in Cuttack, Orissa on July 27, 2010 that he was a witness to Kandhmal riot of 2008. His home and shop were burnt by the Hindutva fanatics in midst of security personnel on August 25, 2008. Defending lawyer Mr. Souribandhu Mohapatra accused Naik’s failure for not making police complaint against the burning of his home and shop and also termed his conversion illegal when he followed his parents’ religion at the age of 13.

Orissa Freedom of Religion Act 1967 prohibits conversion or attempt to convert, either directly or otherwise, any person from one religious faith to another by the use of force or by inducement or by any fraudulent means nor shall any person abet any such conversion. The act was amended in 1989 which violates human rights and contradicts the constitutional rights given to the citizen of India. Any individual or person wishing to convert must clear first by filing prescribed form from magistrate reign not below 1st class. The defaulters will be penalised with imprisonment or fine.

Eight Indian states have passed Freedom of Religion Bills, some of them enacted as law of the state, while some have repealed and not enacted into law. Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh have enacted as laws. Some of theses bills do not term any one converting to Hinduism from any religion as violation and they are termed a home coming.

The Constitution of India gives freedom of religion to every citizen but the Freedom of religion like Orissa is totally against the freedom of religion. It is anti-religion law which violates the preamble of Indian Constitution. It assaults secularism and democracy of the nation. It assaults the idea of India, invented by Mahatma Gandhi, explored by Jawaharlal Nehru and redefined by Bhim Rao Ambedkar. Indian Constitution has several Articles and sections of Indian Penal Code that prohibit any forced, fraud and fraudulent proselytisation. There is no room required of any anti-religion law.

Debates have been conducted over the issue of fraud and fraudulent conversion and enough accusation has been levelled to Christian minorities across the nation and severely in Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Gujarat where these anti-conversion bills are passed and enacted. Hundred of missionaries, nuns, priests are booked and imprisoned under the charges of forced, fraud and fraudulent conversions. Not a single case has been convicted in any of Indian court, which suggests that charges are fraud and forced allegation.

Pin pointing to the issue of forced, fraud and fraudulent conversion, I and my forefathers were forcefully converted to Hinduism. I bear a Hindu name and 2.5 million my fellow Meiteis in India’s north eastern state Manipur bear “Singh” after each name as living witness to forced, fraud and fraudulent conversion. Our indigenous religion and sacred scripture were destroyed by pioneering Hindu missionaries on 23rd day of the Manipuri calendar month Wakching (winter) of 1729. Since then, Bengali script have replaced Meitei script, I was taught in Bengali script not Meitei. Indigenous culture, religion and tradition destroyed and replaced by Sanskritinised (Brahmin) culture, religion and tradition. Casteism, which never existed among the society of Manipur, became a part of society, which has caused socio-political crisis among the societies that further led to distancing among the people of hills and valley.

Saffronising of Dang district of Gujarat, tribal belts of Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Chhattisgarh and North East Indian states are seen as signs of proselytising the tribal communities into Hindu religion. Conversion in true nature of Indian Constitution is the rights of every citizen and never illegal as defending lawyer of Kandhmal riot perpetrators is trying to level to the victim who has come to the door of the court to seek justice for the crime committed against him and his fellow Christians. In deed India is the land of proselytisation. Lord Buddha converted from Hinduism and so Guru Nanak, and Lord Mahavir Jain.

What fears the most by the connotation of conversion is that Indian masses who are socially, politically, economically and educationally backward, get rid out of caste oppression when converted to any other religion. In search of quest for identity of every Indian citizen will use the tool of LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship provided by the preamble of Indian Constitution.

The Freedom of Religion laws, which are anti-religion in true nature, have been reported of misused by the fanatics and law enforcement agencies in some states to harass the Christian and other minority communities. During Kandhmal riots from 2007 December till mid October 2008, All India Christian Council records, 315 villages damaged, 4,640 Christian houses burnt, 54,000 Christians homeless, 70 people killed (including least 6 pastors and one Roman Catholic priest killed) and another 50 missing and presumed dead, 10 priests/pastors/nuns seriously injured, estimated 18,000 Christians injured, at least two women (including a nun) raped, an estimated 300 churches and “prayer halls” destroyed (252 according to the state government), and 13 Christian schools and colleges damaged. The violence against the Christians in Kandhmal district of Orissa was definitely an act of ethnic minority cleansing by Hindutva militants an assault on Indian secularism and democracy.

Rev Madhu Chandra is a research scholar, human rights activist and missionary based at New Delhi, working as Public Relation Officer of All India Christian Council, Founder and Spokes Person of North East Support Centre & Helpline and National Secretary of All India Confederation of SC/ST Organisations.