Re: Research paper of Justice KT Thomas on conversion
The following is the text of an article I wrote, which was carried in People's Reporter, (PR) a fortnightly published from Mumbai, in the aftermath of the excellent talk by K T Thomas on Religious Conversion. As Jharkhand readers have already had access to Justice Thomas' talk, I though they may be also interested in it as the original talk was also posted on this egroup. Looking forward to responses if any.
Freedom of Religion and the Debate on Conversion
I am grateful to PR for its detailed two-part coverage on the speech by Justice K T Thomas at the Sixth Stanely Samartha Memorial Lecture organised by BIRDS at St. Mark's Cathedral, Bangalore, on 4th October. I had the good fortune to be present and hear the speech in person, as well as at the question and answer session that followed. The uniqueness of this lecture series is the presence of the Sangh Parivar in most of them, given the professed inter-faith nature of the organising group. They were present at this lecture as well, though the jury is still out on whether the common or garden 'Hindu' will accept them as their representatives, given their hardline stance on most issues relating to religion.
Justice Thomas did ample justice to his brief, bringing a hands-on engagement with the subject and an insider's view of the judicial system to the issues.The topic chosen was "The Right to Convert and the Indian Constitution", a red rag indeed to the Hindutva camp. I will not cover ground that has already covered in the talk, but will highlight one or two important aspects of the debate which may be relevant to those who preach, practice, profess and propagate faiths other than the 'majority' faith in India. The right to convert is a red herring, and an earlier judgement on the topic famously says "there is no automatic freedom to convert" when one practices one's religion. We must remain everlastingly grateful to our founding fathers, (and to Justice Thomas for reminding us) that the Constitutional debate on the freedom of religion was held in a surcharged atmosphere, in the aftermath of Partition, with agitators noisily demanding that Hinduism be declared the state religion. Independent India has already been through the fires of testing and emerged from the test with a clear choice of State secularism. The reality of religious pluralism in India and the demands of statehood make this an imperative.
The alternative of religious majoritarianism are clear before all of us, not only in parts of India but in country after country across the globe, where votaries of one religion or another, once they getinto power, make civilised life difficult and throw established Constitutional norms to the winds.The state and its citizens are pushed back into a non-existent, imagined hoary golden past where human rights are trampled upon with impunity and anyone perceived as the "Other" suddenly acquire second-class status. What then does this mean to practitioners of Christianity in this country?
We are free to profess, preach, and propagate.The right to convert, however, rests with the individual whose conscience should be his/her guide, because the right to change one's religion is sacrosanct to each individual. No one, least of all the state, has the right to abrogate it. Because conversion to another faith is one's own choice, and stems from the basic freedom – the freedom of conscience. It is the choice of the listener, the responder, not the choice of the clergyman or evangelist whose message, testimony, or prayer – whose preaching, profession or propagation – made one decide to convert to another faith.
It is true that the freedom of religion in the Indian Constitution is not absolute, but subject to public order, morality and health. I hope it is not anyone's case that if an individual makes a personal decision which the community disapproves of – whether in choice of spouse (inter-caste or inter-religious); choice of occupation (a scavenger decides to stop his work and take up construction work); or try to stop a social evil like child marriage, outlawed but rampant in India, and (all these especially circumscribed by religious and social taboos ) the state should not intervene to protect the person from the collective actions of the community if it takes a violent or repressive turn. What makes a choice to change one's faith any different from these examples?
Hence we must thank Justice Thomas for reminding us that propagation of one's faith is legal, permitted and protected by law. The outcome of exercising that choice is not predictable. If by the saintly example of a teacher, a social worker or a Mother Theresa, a person or a community is drawn to the faith of the mentor, and they wish to join it, it is the individual's Constitutional right, not to speak of his/her fundamental Human Right to do so. In India at least, these choices are not made lightly – there are usually compelling personal reasons to make these choices. To allege that people convert for monetary gain is to belittle the gravity of the person's choice. If they are making a change they perceive as for the better, why should this be opposed? This choice cannot be mediated by law, practice, threat or intimidation. The reality, however, is that all these pressure can, and indeed, are brought to bear on the individuals, with religious fundamentalists and status-quoists being the main perpetrators. This is especially so when those who have faced historic discriminations seek to change their personal and religious identities through making a decision to convert to another faith. What this faith is, why Christianity and Islam seem to be singled out for especial disapprobation by the votaries of Hindutva, are more complex issues.
But simply put, the law and the Constitution are clear. To Convert, or not to, is the believer's personal choice, and is as sacrosanct as the Freedom of conscience. And the Constitution also gives all Indian citizens the freedom to worship, profess one's faith, and to propagate it.
Cynthia Stephen __._,_.___
Replying to this email will send an e-mail to 9000+ members of Jharkhand Forum and it will be published at 20 blogs of EI Blogger & Jharkhand Blog.