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'Why shouldn't conversions be banned?'

'Why shouldn't conversions be banned?'

Author: Nina Benjamin
Publication: Deccan Herald
Date: August 9, 2005
URL: http://www.deccanherald.com/deccanherald/aug92005/panorama145128200588.asp

Mr Ashok Chowgule, national vice-president of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), was in Bangalore recently to participate in an interactive session on "The Hindu view on religious conversions". The programme was organised by the Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue and The Carey Society of the United Theological College. Excerpts from an interview:

Who is a Hindu?

Hindu is a cultural term. This type of cultural concept existed before the advent of monotheistic systems. Once you look at a Hindu in a cultural context it is easy to understand it better. The Constitution defines the word Hindu as one who is not a Christian, and not a Muslim etc. Hinduism emphasises spirituality, not religion.

On religious conversion...

What conversion means to a Hindu is to elevate oneself to a higher spiritual plane. So, conversion is an act which requires an understanding of not only the new system but also of where one is today. This understanding requires deep study. True conversion therefore, becomes an act of an individual and not a of a group. Religious conversions create tensions in society. Whenever and wherever there have been conversions for whatever reasons, the community around gets into a big turmoil. It is a threat to communal peace that you can see in front of you. It's not imaginary. Unless the society deals with it in a sensible manner nothing will come off it. But if society dismisses its existence then you have a problem, which is really what is happening today. It is unfortunate that even at the academic level this question is not discussed. No Christian leader or intellectual wants to talk about it openly. I don't understand why. One can get into a lot of discussions about the theoretical and theological part of conversions.

On conversion and monotheism...

Monotheism insists that there is a unique way to salvation. This way is supposed to be narrated in a book, said to be the word of the prophet or God.

The way is nurtured and propagated through an establishment which often brooks no dissent. For the establishment, conversion often is a numbers game.

For a believer, conversion is not just an act of piety but also humanity.

Conversion causes social tension?

In Islam, conversion is treated as a crime. Buddhists in Sri Lanka want to prohibit conversion by law. Christians are upset even when a member of a particular denomination defects to another denomination.

Pope John Paul II even warned Catholics in South America against "the evangelical Protestant wolves".

There have been violent Catholic reaction to these "evangelical wolves" everywhere.

Remember, the Pope had cautioned Catholics about accepting Eastern religious ideas. Christians in India have reacted violently against activities of ISKCON. So, have they to the VHP's programme of re-conversion.

Hindu revulsion against conversion is widespread in all sections of Hindu society which has been noticed even by many Christian thinkers and intellectuals.

Revulsion is greater when conversion is done by fraud and inducement. Mahatma Gandhi wanted legislation against conversion. Ambedkar stated that conversions to Islam or Christianity would take him out of his ancient traditions.

Is the VHP confrontationist?

When a point is put across to you on the table you have to deal with it and not dismiss it. When we tell the minorities that conversion through fraudulent means cause tensions and urge them not to indulge in it they dismiss our pleas and go ahead with the conversion drive.

Then what is the choice you are giving us?

We want to discuss the problem with the "converters", but there is no initiative from the other end.

When issues don't get resolved sitting across the table what are the options before the majority community who have been at the receiving end of evangelical onslaught?

So tension builds up and spills over a period of time. We have to face facts, sit and talk about these problems and find solutions to them.

What are the facts? If a Christian sect is upset about one of its sheep shifting his loyalties to another Christian sect, how can the sect convert a non-Christian?

If Protestant missionaries in South America are "wolves", what are they in India? If the Pope cautions his flock about accepting Eastern ideas, how can he ask Hindus to accept Christian ideas?

When social service is used for conversions, does not service become debased?

If conversions cause social tensions should they not be banned?

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