This write up is in response to the article ‘The Pope and Freedom of religion in India’ by Prof. Dr. Anniyil Tharakan (New Indian Express, View Point, Page 2, May 30, 2006).
Pope’s concerns over the laws made by various states in India, banning religious conversion, ‘and there by infringing on religious freedom’ caused a lot of fury – especially among some of the BJP leaders. Let us thrust aside all the show offs from political parties involved in this matter – it may be because of pure political reasons. But still, there are some major facts to consider, regarding the statements made by the respected Pope.
Converting a person from one religion to another is simply changing the outer skin – and this won’t do any good if we can not uplift the moral and spiritual values of a person from with in. But in India, religious conversions are done purely for outer reasons, normally by offering material comforts, or by exploiting sentiments about a ‘better life’ after death.
By banning religious conversion in some of its states, India just send a clear message to the world that all the religions are equal, and we are committed to keep our well acknowledged religious tolerance and commitment towards communal harmony.
It is high time that we should get around the banana skin (which are the rituals and symbols in religions), and move towards the religious values which is the real banana. The values in all religions are the same – and they are eternal and universal. If a Christian can not find God through Christianity, he is not going to do that just by changing his outer label to a Hindu. Similarly, a Hindu or a Muslim can not realize himself or the Divine or the unseen consciousness or Allah, just by changing to another religion.
As I got enough opportunities to interact with a number of so called ‘converted’ people, I can clearly state that these types of conversions only mounded up their religious confusions and worries. This happens often, mainly because suddenly these people are coming to a new set of rituals and symbols which may contradict with their present rituals and existing beliefs. Their new ideology will not match with their existing thinking and traditions, and add up their mental frustrations.
Freedom of a person is limited by laws - to protect him, and to protect the society. Even if a person interested in suicide himself, there are laws that prevent it. Similarly, in present day society, a religious conversion can be considered as a spiritual suicide – since it causes frustration and self-conflict in ones own mind – and hence it should be banned by law.
It is the responsibility of the state to protect people from undergoing such problems and exploitations, and hence, I strongly feel that religious conversions should be banned all over India. It is important to understand that this is not about infringing in to the religious freedom of people.
India has already shown the world that human values, peace and harmony can be promoted with out mixing any colour of religion to spirituality. Various spiritual leaders in India have done that in the past, and India is still doing it.
We have a lot of spiritual leaders who clearly set the examples – like Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Mata Amritanandamayi, Sri Satya Sai Baba etc. Around the world, they are converting people from stressed and strained ones to self contented, service minded, peace loving people. They are not even worried about the religious labels associated with the people they influence. And they even ask people to think beyond religion, to move towards the real values and spirituality. This is because, religion is often used as a measure by most to achieve one’s own selfish desires – while spirituality is all about service, caring and sharing.
The church may take a clue out of this. It is not required to worry about the laws that prevent religious conversions – since these laws simply ban the assignment of a new religious label to a converted person. And everyone will agree that simply assigning a new religious label won’t do any good to anyone. At this point, I would like to mention that we should think and talk about spirituality and human values – and not about the outer covering – i.e, the symbols, rituals and labels associated with religions.
You can find good water any where, but you should dig deep enough. We should learn to take the spirit-uplifting human values and knowledge from all religions - to help us deepen the faith in our own religion and to instil human values and self contentment with in us. Self Realization or realizing the global consciousness, and finding the Kingdom of God with in, is not limited to the people in a particular cast or community. This is the great vision of Sanathana Dharma, which forms the root of India’s history and culture.
Hence, the laws that prevent religious conversions will not cause any threat to the religious equality and religious harmony of the country.