Thursday, October 23, 2008

Clash of Conversations

By: Valson Thampu

About five years ago, at the height of communal polarization, I took a calculated risk in suggesting a voluntary moratorium on conversions as a Christian sacrificial investment in peace-making. This envisaged a temporary suspension of the fundamental right of all citizens as enshrined in article 25 of the Constitution to “propagate” one’s faith. Perhaps I was the only Christian priest who ever made such a proposal. This was done not because I had lost faith in article 25 but to test the waters: to map the extent to which the Sangh Parivar really considers conversions a serious issue. I knew that it is merely an emotive catalyst to activate mass animosity. No one from the Sangh Parivar responded to my initiative and no debate ensued.

It is surprising that the vast, educated middle class in this country are not amused at the blanket assumption that all conversions are necessarily by “force, fraud or allurement”. One has to be willfully credulous to buy the canard that a tiny community like the Christians (2.18 per cent of the population) can convert anyone by “force”! All available evidence proves that the truth is the other way round: force is used against the Christian community. That leaves us with “fraud” and “allurement”. What is the fraud that is perpetrated on the alleged victims of conversion? What are the ingredients of this allurement? Help in times of sickness? The prospect of dignity and empowerment? If these comprise the substance of “allurement” then what political parties promise is worse than “allurement”.

The agenda of the Sangh Parivar is to convert India into a theocratic State; a tolerant, non-violent, secular society into a homogenized, militant and intolerant society.

Addressing the National Integration Council, the Prime Minister lamented that violence is increasing in many parts of the country and that the spirit of tolerance is waning. This is true. But what the PM needs to take into account is the fact that this is happening for two reasons. First, unless the rule of law is effectively upheld we grant, by default, free play to the agents of violence. Second — an unprecedented taste for, and faith in, violence is emerging in our midst. When the rule of law is kept in suspended animation and the dogs of war are let loose, the public at large — especially the youth — can come to only one conclusion: nothing pays like violence and only violence pays.

Those of us who have abiding faith in the spirit of India, even against sinister evidence, are obliged to believe that sanity will prevail . That after the present surfacing of poison, the elixir of life will emerge. But that still leaves us with the all-important question: who will drink this emerging poison, in the meanwhile?

The writer is a member of the National Integration Council and the principal of St. Stephen’s College, Delhi...
[The Indian Express, Oct. 23, 08]