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OffStumped For All Things Right of Center, Bringing a Right of Centre Reality Check to Indian Politics, News Media Reporting and Opinion through Blogs and Podcasts.
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International media outlets have seized on news of conversion by so called low caste Hindus. The frenzy with which news media outlets like the BBC have covered this non-event is stupefying. For those wondering where this non-event took place and what it did not accomplish, here is a primer. A massive demonstration was to be held in Nagpur with over 100,000 dalits in attendance on October 14, 2006. The rally was titled “World Freedom of Consicence and Freedom of Religion Day”. It was organized by the usual suspects. The All India Confederation of Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes Organization and the All India Christian Council.  The choice of October 14th ostensibly was to mark the 50th year when B.R. Ambedkar embraced buddhism. 

The day’s events in Nagpur turned out rather unexpectedly for the organizers. To begin with the event was essentially localized a motley group of individuals and its observance essentially localized to Nagpur despite its organizers attempt to give it an international spin calling it world freedom of religion day. While tall claims were made of converting 100s of thousands, in the end it was just a few hundred that showed up. It is anybody’s guess how many of these few couple of 100 were genuinely motivated and were legitimate conversions. The biggest dampener to the event was the Dalit’s loudest mascot and Bahujan Samaj Party President Mayawati who stormed out of the event and held her own parallel press conference. In a slap in the face to the other dalit messiahs Mayawati dodged questions on why she herself had not converted out of hinduism. Seeking to strike a political balance with an eye on the upcoming Uttar Pradesh polls, Mayawati took refuge in a rather flimsy vow that she will not convert till she became the Prime Minister of India. 

The dubious political agenda of the organizers was bared for everyone to see, when the event took a detour from both Buddhism and Christianity to burn effigies of Gujarat Chief Minister and BJP leader Narendra Modi and was reduced to an Anti-Modi rabble rousing mela. What was baffling to Offstumped was the international coverage this non-event recieved. That in a country of a billion, alleged conversion by a few hundred under dubious and politically motivated circumstances makes internation news leads one to wonder as to the sponsorship behind it.  The fact that the politically motivated organizers encouraged the neo-converts to engage in an effigy burning frenzy is testimony to the fact that the event had nothing to do with an appreciation of Ahimsa in Buddhism or the commandments of Christianity. This brings into question the legal legitimacy of such mass conversions by politically motivated elements. 

Offstumped had earlier in the year shown that christian objections to anti-conversion laws are on shaky grounds based on the doctrines evolved by the present pope and the Indian Constitution. 

The current Pope previously when he was a Cardinal authored what is referred to in Vatican Lingo a Doctrinal Note. This Doctrinal Note was on the subject of The Participation of Catholics in Political Life 

In this note, then Cardinal Ratzinger makes a very interesting observation: 

Promoting the common good of society, according to one’s conscience, has nothing to do with or religious intolerance  

All the faithful are well aware that specifically religious activities (such as the profession of faith, worship, administration of sacraments, theological doctrines, interchange between religious authorities and the members of religions) are outside the state’s responsibility. The state must not interfere, nor in any way require or prohibit these activities, except when it is a question of public order 

First important item to be observed in the statements above, there is no reference to Propogation or proselytization. So in effect the catholic doctrine acknowledges that regulating proselytization is within the State’s responsibility and can be prohibited. 

The second important to be observed is that acting of one’s conscience to promote the common good of society is not to be confused with religious intolerance. 

THE HON’BLE SARDAR VALLABHBHAI PATEL, Chairman. Advisory Committee on Minorities,  

Fundamental Rights, etc. when introducing the Fundamental Rights submitted the below annexure which clearly stated:  

All persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience, and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion subject to public order, morality or health,   

Conversion from one religion to another brought about by coercion or undue influence shall not be recognised by law  

The freedom of religious practice guaranteed in this clause shall not debar the State from enacting laws for the purpose of social welfare and reform  

So the founding fathers were very much alert to the issue of illegal conversion through coercion or undue influence and did indeed make provisions for the right of the State to enact laws to deal with it in the interest of social welfare. In fact the Supreme court in the 1970s while passing judgement on an Orissa anti-conversion law ruled that the constitution guaranteed the right to propogate one’s religion but did not guarantee the right to convert someone from one religion to another.  

Offstumped Bottomline: The so called “World Freedom of Consicence and Freedom of Religion Day” was neither about consicence nor about religion. If it was about conscience the organizers would have been honest about their anti-Modi anti-BJP political agenda. If it was truly about religion the organizers and the neo-converts would have demonstrated a solemn appreciation of the tenets of either religion instead of resorting to effigy burning.  

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