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Sister Sonia, he wanted a total ban on conversions!

Sister Sonia, he wanted a total ban on conversions!

Author: S Gurumurthy
Publication: The New Indian Express
Date: August 11 2006
URL: http://www.newindpress.com/column/Column.asp?ID=IE620060810110955&By=S+Gurumurthy

"The Congress party's views on this are well known," Sonia says. 'This' means laws banning forcible religious conversions. She goes on: "They are enactments passed by state legislatures where the Congress is in opposition." She adds, "The Congress party has opposed (them) strongly in the assembly and through demonstrations." She made these profound remarks in a letter she wrote to Dr John Dayal. Who is he? He has a respectable visiting card, as member of the National Integration Council. But he has other visiting cards too like President of All India Catholic Union, Secretary General of All India Christian Council, President of United Christian Action, and Member of Justice and Peace commission Archdiocese of Delhi.

But these cards do not exhaust his definition. In the assessment of a responsible Christian scholar, PN Benjamin, who runs the Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue, "John Dayal opens his mouth and wields his pen only to spew venom on the Hindu community." This completes his profile. He had written to Sonia complaining about the laws banning religious conversions in different states. To which she replied implying that the BJP is the author of anti-conversion laws.

But is that - that is, it is the BJP, not the Congress, which passed the anti-conversion laws and the Congress had actually opposed them - a fact? Only a novice in political history post freedom would say something like what Sonia says. On the contrary, it was the Congress Party, which had still some traces of the Mahatma Gandhi left in it, that had passed the anti-conversion laws.

That Congress, which still had some respect for the Mahatma, took his words on religious conversions seriously. Mahatma Gandhi had written extensively against conversions by Christians. He wrote, "I hold that proselytisation under the cloak of human work is unhealthy to say the least." This was in Young India on April 23, 1931. Later, he went one step further and wrote, "If I had the power to legislate, I should stop all proselytisation work" (Young India 5.11.1935). He told the missionaries, "He is ashamed of them" (Young India 8.8.1925), disputed their claim that theirs "is the only true religion" (Harijan 3.6.1937), warned that "conversion should not mean denationalisation" (8.8.1925), and pointed out that it means just that, as many converts are "ashamed of their birth" and of their ancestry (20.8.1925).

Gandhiji's ideas were still influencing the Congress when the Madhya Pradesh government constituted the Neogi Committee to study missionary activities in tribal areas. This was in 1954. S.K George, 'a devout Christian and a nationalist belonging to the oldest church in India - the Syrian Christian Church' was a member of the Committee. The Committee exposed the massive, fraudulent conversions of tribal people and recommended that a law be enacted to ban such fraudulent practices. The MP government, led by the Congress Party, enacted the Neogi-recommended law banning conversions in the year 1968. The Orissa government, again a Congress-led government, did so even earlier in 1967. And Arunachal Pradesh under the central rule of the government headed by another Gandhi, unrelated to the Mahatma, Indira Gandhi, also passed a similar law.

This is the origin and history of anti-conversion laws in India. So these laws owe their origin in Mahatma Gandhi's wish. He actually wanted a ban on all religious conversions. These laws fall far short of his wish. But she would not know that Gandhiji wanted a total, not partial, ban on conversions. She would not know that it was the Congress in which Gandhi's views were respected which passed these laws first. One can also dismiss her ignorance of the history of a country she is totally unfamiliar as natural. But the tragedy is that, by design, not by accident, this nation itself has kept its people and polity so ignorant of the views of that Gandhi that many today think that this Gandhi's views are also that Gandhi's views!

His statues in lakhs are all over the country from small village panchayat offices to Parliament. Roads running to hundreds of thousands of miles bear his name in every small town. His name is alive through his statues and roads but his ideas are nowhere. That is why the later Gandhis saw the political gain in appropriating his name but rejecting his ideas. Just like the name Gandhi is all over but his ideas are nowhere, the name Congress is all over but Gandhi's ideas are nowhere in the Congress. So, while Mahatma Gandhi had commended a ban on conversions, the Congress led by Sonia Gandhi is opposing even a ban on fraudulent conversions. The difference between the two Congresses is as much as the difference between the two Gandhis - today's Sonia Gandhi and yesterday's Mahatma Gandhi.

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