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Conversion: The Other Side of the Story

Dr. M. D. Thomas Dr. M. D. Thomas
08 Apr 2024

'Conversion' is a very hot and sensational word in India, and it is required much more than ever, maybe only in India. It is 'inflammable' like a truck carrying petrol or the touch-me-not that withers before it is touched.

The anti-conversion laws passed in some eight states, along with the anti-conversion narratives running around in the country, have made the issue profusely sensitive. Many punitive actions based on fake cases have created panic all around, as well.
The 'freedom of religion' or anti-conversion laws passed are intended to restrict or reduce forceful or fraudulent religious conversions, which is definitely an anomaly. Force or fraud makes conversion invalid, so they do not go together.

A parallel from the political sector would be very telling. Many political persons in various parties defect and change their affiliation against a considerable package of money. It is more than a wonder why this is not considered a highly objectionable 'conversion'.

People can usually change their citizenship, job, hobbies, food habits, dress patterns, ideology, friendship, social traditions, etc. Considering changing religious affiliation to be intolerable is undoubtedly a vicious phenomenon.

Article 25 of the Constitution of India guarantees 'freedom of conscience, free profession, practice and propagation of religion' as one of the fundamental rights of citizens. This declares that not believing in any religion and switching to another religion are equally legitimate.

That would amount to stating that neither governmental forces nor non-governmental sources can object to the natural phenomenon of religious conversion, as in the case of conversion or change of affiliation of any sort.

Therefore, a Christian, Muslim or Buddhist can become a Hindu, Jain or Sikh. Similarly, a Hindu, a person of any other persuasion, can make a profession of a different religion for reasons reserved to himself. Anyone can worship in any place of worship, as well.

The core meaning of the word 'conversion' is 'change'. Change is the fundamental principle of life. From birth to death, it is a continuous process. Biology asserts that all the cells of the body change every few years. Therefore, change can never be negated.

After all, why is there change on earth? Change is a process geared towards growth. Change is always for the better. Bettering one's condition is one's inviolable right. This God-given right cannot be denied by any power on earth.

The world is limited, and limitations are found everywhere. People migrate to other areas due to shortcomings in one area. People change their belonging to a particular group because they lack essential components of life. Improving one's condition is always the purpose.

Food, clothing, and shelter are life's most essential material requirements. Education, medical care, and other social provisions are also required. Everyone wants freedom, respect, dignity, equal status, love, care, security, etc.

In the wake of the shortage of the above fundamentals of life in the community of one's affiliation, anyone would like to change one's belongings. This is a natural phenomenon. No one can be considered at fault for such a decision. The previous community is responsible for such happenings.

It is too evident that a high range of discrimination and division has been at the centre of the social fabric of the Indian or Hindu society. Considerations of high and low were rampant in the social sector. Those of the lower castes and the casteless or the untouchable had a miserable life. No wonder battalions of them flew to the Buddhist, Islamic and Christian communities in search of human dignity and basic necessities of life.

A more decent and dignified life was the motive of the people who fled communities of their origin. Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar was a paradigm par excellence. 'Though I was born a Hindu, I solemnly assure you that I will not die as a Hindu' was his assertion. This statement speaks volumes of the miserable plight of millions and millions of people and the logic of change.

Millions of people have bid adieu to India, and many continue to do so to other welfare states. They refuse to come back to India anymore, too. I do not think those people are at fault, but the deplorable state of affairs in the country's political, religious, economic, social, and cultural spectrum. Change for the better is one's elementary right.

The other side of the conversion story is substantial food for thought. It is a clarion call to the fact that there is absolutely no logic in the hue and cry about 'religious conversion' that has engulfed the country. It is like a 'mirror', in which those responsible must see their face.

It is high time the country's political, social, and religious custodians realised that if they do not love and care for their children at home, the inmates will run away at an opportune time. The neighbour who welcomes and extends human behaviour to them cannot be held responsible in any way for such a phenomenon.

Besides, enacting any number of anti-conversion or freedom of religion laws and punishing or pestering persons of the welcoming and caring community is no solution to the problem. It will only create ill will, distance between the communities concerned, and unfair behaviour.

Instead, instances of using religious belongingness to vent one's ill feelings towards someone must be checked. Using religion as a means to discriminate or take advantage of someone else has to be dealt with with punitive action, too.

Much homework is required. Good sense and sound thinking must be awakened. Consolidated efforts must be promoted. A revolutionary process of social reformation must be initiated. 'Change for the better' must be recognised as a watchword for balancing the situation.

What's more, effective and adequate measures have to be initiated to address the caste system, discrimination, considerations of high and low, inequality, unsociability, and the like. Special schemes have to be devised to attend to the basic needs of the run-down groups of India, of the Hindu community in particular.

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