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Commercial MNCs are checked, so why not religious MNCs?

December 19, 2014 23:20 IST

Anti-conversion laws are needed since thrusting the idea of a competitive battlefield of religion onto India's pluralistic traditions can only lead to greater communal conflict, argues Sankrant Sanu.

The debate on conversion in India has heated up, ironically after a few people were allegedly converted back to Hinduism.

On this Web site, Amberish Diwanji argued that the right to convert to another religion is guaranteed by the United Nations as a human right.

Economist Rupa Subramanya argued for 'a level playing field and free market in religious choice' and that 'Hindu organisations trying to reconvert need to take a leaf from the enormous resources and sophistication deployed by Christian missionary organisations.'

Hardly anyone in India opposes the idea of an individual wishing to worship in the way they want or to change or abandon their ways.

The problem comes when individuals become number counts in a global religious war, being waged throughout the world, backed by powerful institutions, States and non-State actors.

Such a war is being waged on India and, without a strategy to counter it, we will see greatly increased religious conflict in India.

Christianity and Islam have been on a mode of expansion for nearly 1,800 years. This expansion was backed by the resources of powerful States, and continues to be so.

Over this period Christianity conquered Europe first, taking out native Roman pagan, Celtic, and Druidic traditions. Later Islam started and expanded in the Middle East and across the Indian continent, coming into conflict with Christian Europe in its eastward expansion.

Christian European colonisation conquered the Americas and killed off practically all the native traditions and, in many cases, entire native peoples. Africa remains an active battlefield in the religious war between Islam and Christianity.

Up until the early 1970s, Christian countries all the way from Australia to Canada were forcibly removing children from native people to raise them as Christians, killing the transmission of native culture to the next generation.

Survivors speak (external link) of the great psychological damage from the loss of community identity.

Researchers document (external link) 'high rates of social problems, demoralisation, depression, substance abuse, suicide and other mental health problems in many, though not all, Aboriginal communities.' They note 'compelling evidence that the long history of cultural oppression and marginalisation has contributed to the high levels of mental health problems' found in the native communities. Culture, identity and roots are important for the health of people.

The destruction of native peoples and their traditions and the later forcible adoptions were seen by these Christian countries to be 'for their own good'. They were simply rescuing the children from their backward cultures.

This idea comes from the theological doctrines of Christianity, which are equally alive in the conversion missions of today.

Missionary sites aimed at India speak of the 'need to bring Jesus Christ to the starving multitudes who have never heard of Him. They have never heard of His power to save them from the grasp of Satan.'

All the native cultures are thus in the grip of Satan and Christians are here to rescue them. The destruction of the cultures is a small price to pay for bringing 'the Truth, of Jesus, our Savior.'

Often times, social problems in communities were exaggerated and highlighted to justify the 'rescue.'

In India, the argument for external intervention to 'rescue' us has been using the plight of Dalits as a prime excuse. There is no doubt that some communities in India have been mistreated. It is also true that India has put one of the most aggressive affirmative actions programmes for their upliftment.

But these foreign rescuers have their own axe to grind, their 'rescue' does not help.

As Dalit writer Abhinav Singh recently wrote (external link): 'In a single stroke, the whole Dalit-Bahujan Samaj is robbed of its culture, ingenuity, history and spirituality, and de-humanised as people lacking agency who must be rescued.'

Given Christian evangelists' record of 'rescuing' native communities across the globe, one can see why both B R Ambedkar and Abhinav are wary of these benefactors.

While Christianity has largely given up conversion by the sword, at least in visible areas, the conversion mission is now taken up by powerful institutions.

The necessity is both theological and worldly. The business of Christianity is estimated at above $250 billion worldwide, taking its place among the world's largest corporations. An estimated $50 billion goes into the conversion mission annually.

Countries such as Germany, Austria, Sweden still have governments collecting taxes on behalf of the Church, over $13 billion per year in Germany alone (external link). As a result of conquest by Christianity and Islam, Europe, the Americas, Africa and the Middle East, are divided into (external link) Christian-majority and Muslim-majority countries.

That leaves India, China and East Asian Buddhist countries. Christian countries allow proselytisation; they are geared up for competitive religion. Islamic countries restrict Christian missionary activity. By Islamic law, leaving Islam carries a severe penalty.

China also restricts missionary activity and has even nationalised the Catholic Church so bishops are not appointed by Rome.

The biggest and softest target is India, which has been at the centre of the 'Joshua Project' aimed at the 10 to 20 parallels, to 'make disciples of all the peoples.'

Native cultures do not see their traditions as a way to convert others, but as a way to honour the ways of their ancestors. This is not a competitive endeavour (external link).

Anti-conversion laws are needed since thrusting the idea of a competitive battlefield of religion onto India's pluralistic traditions can only lead to greater communal conflict.

As a missionary site states: 'Anyone who is familiar with India knows that India has always been a challenge to the Gospel. Hinduism that teaches, "Just as all rivers lead to the ocean, all religions lead to God," dominates the thinking of the masses... Many Hindus revere Jesus as another god. Yet their eyes are blinded to the uniqueness of Christ.'

The goal then of evangelical conversion is to lift the 'blindness' of pluralism to convert into an exclusive belief system.

Indeed, without that no conversion can take place. If it was simply the question of learning from another way, or accepting another way as true, one need not actually be 'converted' to do that.

All conversion is a conversion into exclusivism. It is not complete till the original tradition is repudiated by the convert. It is a harvest of hate of their current traditions.

With the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh responding in kind with its Ghar Vapasi programme, continuing down this path can only lead to religious war in India.

We need a middle path that allows individual freedom, but severely restricts the operation of the international institutional conversion war machine in India.

Rather than an anti-conversion law, we need to regulate converting institutions and their aggressive marketing.

The Churches and NGOs engaged in conversion are comparable to multinational corporations. To protect their power as 'minority institutions' is to be unaware of their worldwide dominance.

As a powerful global MNC, Apple does not need minority protection rights because it has a smaller market share in India. Neither do religious MNCs.

In fact, commercial MNCs would be sued if they deployed the kind of deceptive marketing that the converting MNCs routinely use. India needs to shut down conversion as a dhanda while allowing full freedom to any individual to change their religion.

It is strange that in a country where we restrict even multi-brand retail MNCs from operating, considering their potential harm to local merchants, we hesitate to ban huge religious MNCs with the potential for far greater damage to the social fabric.

It is also ironic that those that speak the loudest against American imperialism and the power of large multinational corporations are silent about imperialism expressed through religious corporations.

To prevent communal polarisation, India needs to put a complete stop to all foreign funding and missionary activity towards conversions. No missionary colleges teaching 'conversion strategies' should be allowed to operate in India.

Missionary organisations can have a Web site with their materials available and anyone wishing to be informed of another religion can find these resources.

Similarly, funding from Saudi Arabia, taking over control of indigenous Islamic institutions and narratives and pushing fundamentalist Wahhabi Islam should be curtailed.

Any attempt to convert in schools, hospitals, and other places of vulnerability should be banned as well as evangelising those below 18. None of this comes in the way of individuals expressing their faith and following their own path.

Foreign organisations work on their own narrow dogmatic agendas and neither understand, nor care about, preserving India's pluralistic ethos that has always allowed diversity and freedom of worship and belief. Their huge resources and clout, combined with support from powerful countries worldwide, allow them to pressure India for their own ends.

India needs to stand firm to protect its social harmony from these institutions while providing freedom to its citizens to follow their own paths without imposing this on others.

Sankrant Sanu is a former Microsoft manager and an IITian. The views expressed are personal.

Sankrant Sanu