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Secular converts

Secular converts

Author: Balbir K Punj
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: May 9, 2002

The famous poet from Kerala, Kamala Surayya, formerly Madhavikutty - aka Kamala Das - recently celebrated her 70th birthday. Kamala Das's embracing of Islam in December 1999 had kicked off a string of comments and controversy. Yet nobody questioned her inalienable right to choose a religion. But let's look at the other face of the picture. Had Kamala Das been born a Muslim and chosen to convert to Hinduism, how would have the pseudo-secularists of India reacted? What would have been the response of her co-religionists?

It is time the secularists examined their conscience and explained why they hold religious freedom to be a one-way street. In all Muslim countries, from Morocco to Malaysia, conversion to other religion (even those enjoined by Quran like Judaism and Christianity) is met with death penalty. But conversion to Islam from other faiths is welcomed with drumbeats and trumpets.

In the wake of 9-11, several scholarly treatises have hit the market that claim Islam is a tolerant faith, and that large conglomerations of non-Muslims have lived peacefully under the Islamic Turkish Ottoman Empire in the Middle Ages. But if freedom to choose one's religion is the litmus test of tolerance, what prevents Muslim majority countries to accord it to their citizens? It is not just the denial of the right to convert to other faith. Most of them deny the non-Muslim communities to observe their own festivals in public.

If you are in a Wahabi Arabic country like Saudi Arabia, Qatar or Libya, you cannot celebrate Diwali in public. In Saudi Arabia, freedom of religion simply does not exist. Even the American soldiers - Christians and Jews - deployed in Saudi Arabia since 1991 at KSA's own request, can't visibly wear a Cross or Star of David around their necks. We in India are indeed proud to be different from such theocratic states.

These thoughts come to us as we listen to the secular harangue on how the minorities are treated in India and how they ought to be treated. Even a cursory examination will show that India has one of the most liberal constitutions in this regard. While communal clashes do occur, the scare scenario raised by some pseudo-secularists is wholly unjustified.

After 50 years of Independence, the most important minority community, that of Muslims, has increased its strength from 50 million to over 150 million. In congested urban settlements, where people belonging to different communities are packed cheek by jowl, any silly incident is enough to create a communal conflagration. The role of some criminal elements in these incidents cannot be ruled out.

For instance, the 1992 Mumbai riots were the result of a mix-up between Islamic fundamentalism and gangsters, some of whom are facing trial now. No one is a saint when a riot breaks out. Those who accuse the BJP Government in Gujarat of inaction might as well turn around and ask what the Congress regime of Delhi was doing in 1984, when mobs led by its party leaders unleashed an orchestrated orgy of violence against the Sikhs.

Ultimately, it is not the law and the Constitution that would enforce peace - these are only enabling institutions. Peace can only be secured by an attitude and spirit of accommodation between the communities. This is precisely what the RSS said recently at Bangalore, leading to a storm in the secular tea cup. The question arises, Who are the people interested in creating divisions among Indians rather than seeking peace and accommodation?

Incidents that affect peace and harmony in the country have, on investigation, revealed the existence of a foreign hand behind them. Also there has been a dubious role played by some of our own self-proclaimed secularists. The systematic attempts made, first in Punjab and then Jammu & Kashmir, to target Hindu families and massacre them (including killings of Amarnath pilgrims), were meant to sow seeds of disruption in the country. Remember how Deendar Anjuman was working at the instance of ISI to disturb communal amity and defame the Sangh parivar till it was exposed by the Karnataka Police (a Congress-ruled State). Also recall the support SIMI was able to get from "secular" parties and media after it was banned. If the Gujarat violence is not viewed in this context, we would be guilty of ignoring an important facet.

Our pseudo-secularists are playing into the hands of outside forces by painting a frightening picture of India as a country where people are being killed daily. These very people had no tears to shed when the victims were Hindus in J&K and elsewhere. One such "champion of minorities" (with whom I share my birthday) is John Dayal, secretary general of All India Christian Council. At a conference in Jaipur on March 31 last, he advocated that the present Minority Commission be disbanded and reconstituted over its inefficiency to castigate the majority community in Gujarat.

Ever since some clashes occurred between Hindus and Christians in Gujarat three years ago, Mr Dayal has been taking his complaints against the BJP and RSS everywhere - even into the US Congress. Perhaps he believes that American marines will land in Gujarat to protect the Christians or even take over the country. He forgets that there are large groups of Christians of different sects in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, and Karnataka, who have had no occasion to complain even though the "bad Sangh Parivar" is very much present there. He holds the BJP directly responsible even for Staines's murder in Orissa, which, at the time of the incident, was a Congress-ruled State.

Mr Dayal is critical of the recent "dialogue process" between the RSS and Christian groups. He says it gives "credibility to the RSS". He does not understand that the RSS, a 77-year-old august organisation with membership running into millions, does not require any credibility certificate from anyone. The Government banned the organisation twice but each time the authorities had to eat a humble pie and rescind the order. Nor does the RSS need the credibility of the "Western world" that he speaks about. Mr Dayal, on the other hand, should tell us how much credibility his group needs from the "Western world" from where most of the funds come for the purpose of conversion programmes, that spread malicious propaganda against India and its ancient civilisation.

One thing that this "Western world" did in the year 2000 was to seek to establish hundreds of thousands of churches in the country under the Millennium programme. Mr Dayal is fond of organising inter-faith harmony meetings. But he should ask his fund providers whether this was not provocative for communal harmony? Christians constitute around 2.43 per cent of the population and there are vast areas where there are few Christians. What are the churches for in areas where there are no Christians? The obvious answer is to fuel communal disharmony in that area with attempts to "create Christians".

If such is the credibility of collaboration with "Western world", it raises hackles of all those who believe in civil society. Christians in India are true patriots. But if a section of the Church continues to looks to the "Western world" for support, funds and inspiration rather than to the Indian Constitution - and their fellow citizens - questions are bound to arise. In line with a section of Muslims, some Christian groups too are seeking to widen the cultural gap between Hindus and Christians. The real threat to our secular fabric comes from such elements.

(The author is a BJP MP and can be contacted at ethtv2@id.eth.net)

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