Conversion has no justification: SC

via Courtesy: The Pioneer Reports published on January 21, 2011

The Supreme Court on Friday held that conversion from one religion to another had no justification in “secular” India as it amounted to interference in religious belief.

“We hope Mahatma Gandhi’s vision of religion playing a positive role in bringing religions and communities together into an integrated prosperous nation will be realised. There is no justification for interfering in someone’s belief through force, conversion or false premise that one religion is better than the other,” the court noted.

It was dealing with an appeal filed by Dara Singh, who was granted life sentence by the Orissa High Court for burning alive Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons 12 years ago.The court upheld life sentence for Dara Singh, alias Rabindra Kumar Pal, and his accomplice Mahendra Hembram and acquitted the remaining 12 accused, failing to hold any truth in the conspiracy theory suggested by the CBI.

The Bench felt that “conversion” violated the secular spirit of the Constitution. It said, “It is undisputed that there is no justification for interfering in someone’s belief by way of ‘use of force’, provocation, conversion, incitement, or upon a flawed premise that one religion is better than the other.”

Since secularism, according to the court, contained a guarantee that “the State shall treat all religions and religious groups equally and with equal respect without, in any manner, interfering with their individual right to religion, faith and worship.”

Quoting former President KR Narayanan — who said, “Indian unity is based on a tradition of tolerance, which is at once a pragmatic concept for living together and a philosophical concept of finding truth and goodness in every religion” — the judgement hinged hope on the vision of Mahatma Gandhi for co-existence of religions as a “positive factor” to realise “equal respect for all religions”.

Going through the facts of the case, the judges felt that a case for death penalty, warranted under the “rarest of rare” circumstances, was not made out. It said, “…The intention was to teach a lesson to Graham Staines about his religious activities, namely, converting poor tribals to Christianity.”

The incident had occurred on the intervening night of January 22-23, 1999 in a remote tribal village of Odisha, Manoharpur.  This had led the trial court in Odisha to award death penalty to Dara Singh. But the Orissa High Court reversed the finding, sentencing him to life.

Going through the evidence produced by the CBI, the Bench noted that there were some inconsistencies in the statements of eyewitnesses and recorded confessions.

Promoting secular spirit

>Religious conversion has no justification in secular India

>Force, conversion or false premise no basis for such conversion

>Taking lives of persons of another religion bound to have dangerous repercussions

>Gandhi’s vision of religious coexistence a ray of hope

>Case for death penalty for accused unconvincing
As Friday’s judgement puts it, “The intention was to teach a lesson to Graham Staines about his religious activities, namely, converting poor tribals to Christianity.” The judgement is a scathing comment on preachers and pastors engaged in ‘harvesting souls’ through religious conversion, targeting innocent tribals whose poverty and illiteracy makes them vulnerable to the blandishments of crafty missionaries. This is most pronounced in States like Odisha, which was among the first to adopt an anti-conversion law to counter aggressive proselytising activities of missionaries, which have a significant tribal population, leading to social strife and disharmony. Staines was one such missionary whose activities were not restricted to tending to leprosy patients, noble as that vocation may have been, but extended to converting tribal youth to Christianity. This caused resentment among those tribals who felt the missionary was encouraging their fellow tribesmen to abandon their indigenous faith and beliefs. “It is undisputed that there is no justification for interfering in someone’s belief by way of ‘use of force’, provocation, conversion, incitement or upon a flawed premise that one religion is better than the other,” Justice P Sathasivam and Justice BS Chauhan have observed, adding, “In a country like ours where discrimination on the ground of caste or religion is a taboo, taking lives of persons belonging to another caste or religion is bound to have a dangerous and reactive effect on the society at large … It strikes at the very root of the orderly society which the founding fathers of our Constitution dreamt of.”

Tragically, the right to freedom of religion, as guaranteed by the Constitution, is interpreted by Christian missionaries and our deracinated Left-liberal commentariat as well as pseudo-secular politicians as the right to convert, more often than not through deceit, fraud and allurement. That this is done by positing one faith as being superior to another is overlooked and those standing up to religious conversion are crudely admonished. It is a reflection of this sad reality that no tears were shed over the brutal slaying of Swami Lakshmanananda who had dedicated his life to tribal welfare and stood up to missionaries looking for souls to harvest at a discounted rate. It is also a telling comment that few have bothered to look at the reasons that led to a virtual tribal uprising in Kandhamal district of Odisha against missionaries and their henchmen in 2008. This is not the first time the courts have wisely warned against the consequences of conversion. But this wisdom has been treated with scorn by missionaries and their patrons. The consequences of this folly are there for all to see.

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