Conversion and Anti-Conversion in India

BY: SUN STAFF


Apr 28, UK (SUN) — A recent report entitled ‘Conversion and Anti-Conversion in India’ prepared by Transnational Indian Identify (T.I.I.) highlights the orchestrated conversion activities of Evangelical Christian movements in India. These activities are sponsored, abundantly funded, and co-ordinated by Christian organisations based in UK, USA and Europe. The paper's findings are a matter of serious concern to the Hindu community. These activities, which target the poor of India, not only denigrate the Hindu faith traditions but also break family and social structure of communities, sow seeds of extreme animosity within families, within and between communities, and create further deep divisions within the nation as a whole, countering the efforts towards national integration and cohesion.

The issue of "Dalits" has been brought into the public arena here in Britain by the Christian organisations, under the banner of "slavery" during this 200th anniversary of the end of slave trade. Recently a number of British MPs, acting on behalf of the Christian evangelical organisations operating in India with direct and indirect support from UK, issued statements claiming that discrimination against so called Dalits was prevalent here within the British Hindu community. This claim is clearly mischievous in intent, seeking to malign the Hindu community and to justify the religious conversion activities of the Evangelical Christians.

A lot of progress has been made in recent times to eradicate disparity within the Indian society including that based on ‘caste’. All Hindu organisations are completely and unequivocally committed to this objective. Successive Indian governments, since 1947, have vigorously pursued the policy of reservations for neglected classes in education and employment, beyond the time limit originally stipulated by the Indian Constitution. The beneficial impact of this policy on certain classes is now quite visible through out India.

From a statement by the National Council of Hindu Temples and the VHP, UK.


Conversion and Anti-Conversion in India

Executive Summary

This unique research study brings together evidence from various sources across the globe and examines Conversion and Anti-Conversion issues in India today. This report should be seen as the first stage in such an assessment around the questions of,

  • the role of Christian Evangelical organisations in the process of polarisation of religious societies, which is beginning to emerge in India and else where today.

  • organisational and structural links between evangelical organisations, aid agencies and Western political parties.

The evidence of this report raises questions about the role of political support for the global Christian evangelical movement. Some evidence for the resulting social implications of this process are also presented.

Hindu organisations in the UK and USA (see list of contributors, comments from faith leaders across the globe in Appendix B), concerned at an intervention by UK members of parliament on behalf of evangelical organizations, framed in terms of religious freedom, democracy & human rights, sought further information and clarification within this context. An independent research project was undertaken by academics, social analysts, and observers from across the globe, to produce this evidence based report.

There is extensive evidence that UK and USA based Christian multi-national aid and faith organisations, through their own networks of Christian organisations within India, have a clearly stated agenda for conversion of socially disadvantaged people in Asia and Africa and a global imperialistic mission. Empirical evidence gathered indicates increasing growth in conversions in India recently, leading to the term ‘Christian aggression’ becoming common amongst observers of this phenomena. The evidence in this report brings into question the purpose of social humanitarian aid, by these Christian aid organisations, in the third world and in India in particular.

Loughborough MP Andy Reed met with the Deputy High Commissioner for India in London to voice concerns over current laws in India. He suggested they restricted religious freedom. Reed, and Conservative MP Gary Streeter, presented a letter of support, signed by a cross party group of 16 UK MPs. (See Appendix A - list of ministerial declarations for their connections with India and/or Evangelical Christian movements.)

The letter of support was also sent to the Prime Minister of India, President of India and representatives of the National Commission for Minorities in India, as well as the National Commission for Human Rights in India.

Andy Reed states he was contacted by concerned constituents in Loughborough and has worked closely with the India officer of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, where he sits on the board. Reed was urged to draft the letter of support, to seek greater support in Parliament and plan the delegation to meet with the Indian Deputy High Commissioner.

The research evidence of this report suggests that the main Evangelical Christian focus of conversion practices to Christianity, within India, are based upon three social phenomena. These encompass, and are framed within, institutional structures and the social processes of:

  • Exclusion and privilege that justify humanitarian aid, presented in the form of religious capacity building, as a solution to polar class & ethnic positioning of the indigenous people of India;

  • A globalising agenda of the Evangelical Christian Church, supported by a political expression of Christian-Democratic imperialism; and

  • A denigration of non-Christian religions and particularly the Hindu religion and way of life, and the objectifying and racialising of rural lifestyles in India.

This report is set up in three sections, to provide key issues, empirical evidence and social implications within these three areas of research. The appendix section of the report provides extra information on possible social theory and a historical perspective within which the Christian evangelical movement may be further assessed. A short summary of the 16 MPs declarations are also included in the appendix section.

Section A. Global scale of Christian evangelical operations

The evidence in this report suggests that the Christian evangelical movement operates through Multinational corporations, structured as a well organized and coordinated network of grassroots organistions. The trans-national links of Christian Solidarity Worldwide and the project plan and methodology of the Joshua 2000 and beyond project, to the Christian organisational networks in India, also indicate a highly focused and globally managed project for global conversion to Christianity. The other main transnational organisations observed in this report are, OMS International USA & UK, which is linked to the Evangelical Church of India and Solid Rock Ministries of Colorado Springs, USA, which is linked to Mission of Joy in India . There are several others also mentioned within the report.

The evidence of this report suggests exploitation and targeting of vulnerable rural people and also clearly demonstrates how this Christian Evangelical group does not have respect for other religions and cultural ways of life, which contradicts the values of universal human rights and religious freedom for all. The methodology employed by the 7th Day Adventist church in India, is the case study in this report because it most clearly demonstrates how the ‘Dalit’ population is particularly targeted for conversion to Christianity. The recent growth of Maranatha Volunteers International, who help to implement the church planting and 25 Villages and 50 Villages conversion programmes in India, are discussed in detail within this case study.

Section B. Political and structural support for Christian evangelical movement

The Christian aid agencies, such as CARE and Christian educational training programmes (S. Asian development partnership UK), are also linked to the activities of UK members of parliament, and european and global governance structures, through funding and support for their projects. Christian Solidarity Worldwide, based in the UK, Konrad Adenauer Foundation, based in Germany, and World Vision USA & UK, which all acknowledge Christian-based values, are all play a significant role in acquisition of funding and political support for evangelical orgnaistions.

The political currency of the ideological signifier of Christianity, as practiced and preached by the global Evangelical movement, becomes more apparent over time and especially when we realise that studies in the past, of these organisations, do not always account for the ‘natural’ or self evident conflation of ‘Westernerness/Whiteness’ with ‘Christianness’ as has been suggested by eminent scholars and U.S. foreign policy advisers such as Walter Russell Mead. (See appendix C for more social theory). The report also presents evidence about funding and contributions to Christian NGOs in India. The reporting of the use and application of these aid funds is also discussed. A short case summary of the Ford Foundation, a non-Christian aid organisation funded from the USA, is provided as a comparison for the working style and contribution made, to infrastructure, agricultural, educational, developmental and research projects, in India over the past 40 years.

The links and affiliations of members of parliament and government officials (See appendix A) to these various Christian organisations raises the question of the implementation of democracy and the possibility of privileging the position of Christian-Democratic values as opposed to universal democratic values. The activities of UK members of parliament (Appendix A) also indicate strong links between Christian oragnisations, the Christian Democrats and the International Democratic Union, whose founding members are the main conservative parties of the UK, Germany, France and America.

Section C. Denigration and exclusion of other faiths by Christian evangelical faith

A discussion on the racial colonial construction of the term ‘Dalit’ is also included, along with empirical economic data on the condition of Scheduled castes of India. The evidence refutes the data and presentation made in a recent speech by Conservative member of parliament, Andrew Selous on the Dalit issue. There is also some evidence of the so called ‘Dalit’ response to evangelical work in India, that suggests racial and ethnic discrimination and tensions exist within the Christian Evangelical movement.

There are examples within the report of denigration, discrimination and prejudice towards other religions by Christian Evangelical organisations, in a collection of events reported by the media in India. It has not been possible to include the vast quantity of these reports and only seven incidents are included to illustrate the tensions. There is also, within this report, an analysis of some of the Christian organisations’ literature and website material, which reveals a negative attitude towards India and other non-Christian religions within India. There is ample evidence of the denigration of Hinduism and Islam, within this literature. It has not been possible to present all the data within this report but a complete bibliography of websites is included later for further reference, should it be required.

This research report is the first of its kind and we do not suggest that it is a comprehensive study of these issues. Based upon the evidence produced, it recommends:

  • In order to encourage and facilitate Interfaith and International dialogue for the emerging trans-national communities of Indian origin within Europe and USA, there should be a clarification of the position of political parties and Western political activity, with regards to the global networks of the Christian Evangelical movement in India and other developing countries,

  • More academic and investigative research to be carried out to address the hermeneutic and epistemological paradigms, resulting in contradictions that arise from the implementation of Christian philosophical principles, to underpin the institutions of a global secular civil society.

  • More distinction between the separate roles of religious conversion practices and humanitarian aid services and the implementation of an ethical model of social work to be developed, for the benefit of those who most need it, with an emphasis on sustaining community cohesion and stability in India and trans-national communities across the globe.

INTRODUCTION:

Do Christian Evangelists In India Uphold The Indian Constitution & The Law Of The Land?

Mahatma Gandhi had remarked that “… the advent of a missionary means the disruption of a family, and even when outward conditions of dress, manners, language and drink are unaffected, vilification of the Hindu religion, though subdued, remains. Hindu families may squabble like any other, but religio-cultural fissures cut at the heart of the Indian group society, engendering great anguish.”

In a 1977, judgment in the Rev. Stanislaus versus the State of Madhya Pradesh, the court had upheld the constitutional validity of conversion-prohibiting laws enacted by Madhya Pradesh and Orissa. clarifying that “organised conversion, whether by force or fraud, or by providing allurement to people taking advantage of their poverty and ignorance is anti-secular.” The Court further said that respect for all religions was the basis of Indian secularism, whereas conversion was grounded in religious intolerance. The Indian Constitution quite specifically frowns on conversions which disturb the peace.

The Vatican's stand that the fundamental right to practice and propagate religion includes the right to convert, was an issue considered and rejected by the Indian Supreme Court. The two states, which were then controlled by the Congress, had passed anti-conversion laws in 1967 and 1968, respectively. What the Constitution grants is not the right to convert another person to one’s own religion, but to transmit or spread one’s religion by an exposition of its tenets, the court had ruled.

Besides Orissa and Madhya Pradesh, three other states have anti-conversion law in the statute. They include Chhattisgarh, which retained the law after the bifurcation, Arunachal Pradesh and Gujarat.

Tamil Nadu, too, had passed a law in 2002, but repealed it when the DMK (elected party) succeeded in projecting the law as one aimed at minorities in the state.

The Current Situation in India (S. Gurumurthy)

Churches in India have been campaigning recently that the anti-conversion laws passed by Madhya Pradesh and Orissa States decades earlier and by the Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh Governments in recent times are unconstitutional. But long before, in 1977, a five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court overruled a challenge to the anticonversion laws of MP and Orissa. The Pope’s own agencies in India had challenged the laws. The Court firmly told the soul-harvesters that the religious freedom under the Indian Constitution was limited to the right to propagate one’s faith and did not extend to converting other faithfuls.

The Pope wears two hats - one religious, as the global pontiff of the Catholics, and the other political, as the head of Vatican State. The second one gives him and the Catholic faith a global political and diplomatic status that no other faith can match. As the head of the Vatican State, the Pope relates to all heads of State as a political equal and more. When the present Pope’s predecessor, John Paul II, came to India, he proclaimed that the Church planted the Cross on Europe first, then on the Americas and Africa and now, he said, it was Asia’s turn to bear the Cross! Asia was ripe, he said, for harvesting the souls - read heathens - for Christ.

In Latin America, John Paul II abused the Protestant Christians as “wolves” for targeting the Catholics for conversion! Why the hate for conversions in Latin America and love for it in Asia? Simple, the more efficient conversions by Protestants in Latin America are endangering the Catholics, but Asia, with its huge and weak rural population, offers itself, almost competition-free, for the Church to convert.

Working on his predecessor’s intent to plant the Cross in India, the new Pope Benedict XVI has moved further and virtually abused India for growing religious intolerance and for impeding the church work by anti-conversion laws. In May 2006, when the new Indian ambassador to the Vatican, Amitava Tripathi, presented his credentials to the Pope as the head of the Vatican state, the Pope shocked him by saying that Indian laws against conversions offend freedom of faith and should be rejected as unconstitutional. This angered even the normally timid, secular Indian establishment to react sharply, call in Vatican’s chargé d’affaires in Delhi and tell him sternly of the Indian Government’s strong disapproval of the Pope’s conduct.

Has the Pope the moral authority to fault others for lack of religious freedom? In the Pope’s own Vatican State, no faith other than his own is allowed. If the Papacy regards even other Orthodox and Protestant Christians as heretics, where is the question of freedom for idol worshipping heathens to whom the Bible itself denies freedom. The Vatican Constitution is named as ‘Apostolic Constitution’, that is constitution of Christian missionaries! Spain, where until now Catholicism has been the state religion, has again a treaty with the Papacy. Will the Pope allow freedom of faith in the Vatican and sermonize on freedom to those countries?

The Madhya Pradesh Government did not wake up one fine morning and pass this law. In the 1950s it had appointed a committee headed by Justice Neogi, which included a Christian member who was also a Gandhian, to study allegations of forcible and fraudulent conversions of tribal and illiterate people by foreign missionaries. The committee submitted a voluminous, unanimous report detailing fraudulent conversions by the Church. The MP Government, then under the Congress party, merely enacted the recommendations of the Neogi committee. The pontiff of Indian secularism, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, was then the Prime Minister.

The Supreme Court of India has declared that religious conversion is not part of religious freedom in the Indian Constitution and Indian anti-conversion laws are constitutional. But the Pope asserts the other way round, that is, conversion is part of freedom of faith in the Indian Constitution and Indian anti-conversion laws are unconstitutional. The question is: who is supreme in India - the Pope or the Supreme Court?

The current situation in the West today

The recent public support and multi-party mandate for Christian Evangelical practices in India, issued by a group of 16 members of parliament in the UK, led by Andy Reed MP, illustrates how deeply embedded these trends are. One may therefore enquire into how the secular principle of the British Government is being upheld, when there is apparent support for these evangelical paradigms across all British political parties. The United Kingdom’s elected parliamentary officials are not alone in the support of Christian Evangelical work.

Pope Benedict XVI, on 11th May, 2006, stated that the precise aim of divine intervention is to coerce people into conversion, and he explained that, “Nations must learn to read in history a message from God.” This gives profound influence for the credibility of Christian Evangelical practices, based upon a Western dominated account of History. The Pope adds, with the use of racialised terminology reminiscent of the colonial era, that “History is not in the hands of dark forces of chance, or of merely human choices.” These sentiments appear to have been affirmed by the United Nations two days later. UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion, Asma Jahangir, opposed the draft Bills proposed by the Sri Lankan Government, at the behest of Buddhist monks, that would end the exploitation of Tsunami victims by “Christian missionaries who offer money and jobs to entice poor Buddhists to change their religion.” Sri Lanka has a Buddhist majority population.

In light of the rigor of reflection, legislative analysis, and the long history of the Indian government and the Indian people’s engagement with these issues, it is somewhat of a surprise that British members of parliament, The Pope as Head of the Vatican State, American and global governance structures of the United Nations, still seek to undermine the secular constitution of India.

For instance, for all organizations wishing to uphold religious freedom and democracy as universal principles, it would be completely unacceptable if the Indian government or that of any other country, were to try and impose the plural and universal principles of Vedic or Islamic philosophy onto the British, American or German constitution and laws, founded upon the current significant socio-economic presence of populations of Indian origin in these countries.


To read this report in its entirety, please click here.



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