Monday, December 29, 2014

Mythology of conversion

Why Hindus never converted but now want to reconvert

POLITICS  |   Long-form |   29-12-2014

Devdutt Pattanaik @devduttmyth

Observe how you react when you read the word "mythology". You are conditioned to believe it means "falsehood". Where did this conditioning, and meaning, come from? It comes from Christianity and secularism and science, the Western kind. And this has been accepted as "the" truth by many educated Indians – from the cult leaders of the liberal Left, to the gurus of the conservative right, even scriptwriters of Bollywood. Reveals how much of education has become indoctrination.

The word "mythos" means stories in Greek. Stories construct a worldview that is transmitted from generation to generation, shaping cultures. It is this story that binds people, turns them into a community. Every community in the world, from the Kalahari bushmen of Africa to the investment bankers of Wall Street, from aborigines of Australia to the brahmins of Varanasi, from the bishops in the Vatican to the Arabs of Mecca, has a worldview, a myth, about the nature of the world. Everyone in the community views their story as the truth. They have to. It is the glue that keeps their people together. The outsider finds these stories strange – weird, fantastic, absurd, stupid. Hence the twin meaning of myth – truth and falsehood. It is the assumption of the insider, and the judgment of the outsider. In other words, subjective truth.

For the Christian, Jesus is the saviour. For the Muslim, Muhammad is the last prophet. For the Buddhist, life is suffering. For the older Thervada Buddhist school, there was only one Buddha. In the latter Mahayana Buddhist school, there were many Buddhas. For the Hindu, there is rebirth. For the Shaivite, Shiva can break the cycle of rebirth. For the Vaishnavite, Vishnu is the cycle breaker. For the Jain, the world has no beginning or ending. For the secularist, religion is bad. For the capitalist, money is good. For the communist, the haves oppress the have-nots. For patriarchy, heterosexual men are superior. For the atheist, god is fiction. For the scientist, that which is measurable is real.

Notice how "myth" stretches from religious world to the non-religious world. For everyone tells stories, incredible stories, that some want to believe and some don’t. Storytelling is human. Story believing is human. Myth making is the indicator of humanity.

This poses a problem: how to distinguish the truth from falsehood? Reportage from propaganda. Ideology from reality. Ontology (knowledge independent of the mind) from epitemiology (knowledge created by the mind).

To understand this, we have to study the mythology of Abrahamic religions.

Why Abrahamic religions? Two reasons. First, Abrahamic religions have a profound political power, shaping Western/modern/global discourse, in more ways than we can imagine. Second, from Abrahamic religion we have our conventional understanding of "there can be only one truth!"

Abrahamic religions speak of "false gods" and "one true God". This idea is rather unique to Abrahamic mythology. There is the jealous god who does not like false gods, the god who refuses to be contained within a form and is formless, though is represented in language and art using the masculine form. Those who aligned to this mythology rejected all other gods. To prove their faith, they actively toppled other gods. Thus, when Christianity spread to Northeast India in the 20th century, the older tribal religions were wiped out. Memories were erased. Rituals forgotten. Exactly what happened in Arabia and Persia after the rise of Islam in the eighth century.

The Greeks did not have the concept of the "false" god. They had many gods. New gods kept coming in and old gods kept losing ground. The strong Olympians overpowered the earlier Titans. Eventually, the all-powerful god of the Christians kicked every god out when the Roman empire turned Christian. This was important to control the empire. The cacophony of many was replaced by the directives of the One. Notice this trend in recent times in India – where many clamour for dictatorship, and reject the vast diversity of languages in favour of a single language.

But then Greek mythology resurrected itself - not the gods, but their story. The dominant theme of Greek thought is about oppression and rebellion. To stay oppressed is to be in hell. The point of life is to fight back such authoritarian oppression, take a stand and be heroic. Greeks loved individualistic heroes and the polis (the city center) where rule was by consensus of individuals. With Greek thought came the European Renaissance of the 15th century, which challenged the church, and the idea of god, the idea of King, and gave rise to the Protestant movement (where the church is rejected but not god) as well as the relatively recent atheistic movement (where both church and god are rejected).

In its purest form, science does not judge. Science says: I know what I measure; the rest I don’t know. But science emerged in Christian Europe and so like the Abrahamic God, science became a judge. Science started to say: What I measure is true; the rest is falsehood. Thus the division of true and falsehood, spread into philosophy and science. Earlier, the Greek differentiated between two kinds of truth: that which is created by stories (mythos) and that which is created by reason (logos). Under Christian influence, mythos became falsehood and logos became truth, the truth, and nothing but the truth. Thus the Abrahamic God, overthrown by the Renaissance, fought back and made its way right into the speeches of the most radical militant atheists. This Christianised Science, where truth and falsehood were repeatedly demarcated, made its way to every corner of the world through missionary schools and the modern education system that adopted the missionary method.

Hinduism is not based on the notion of "false" gods and "true" gods. Hinduism has no concept of "judges". Truth is seen very differently. There is limited truth or mithya and limitless truth that is satya. The finite human mind can never appreciate the infinity of the world. But the mind can be expanded – by practices of propagated by hermits such as yoga and tapasya and tantra. Only the sage can see all. He is therefore Buddha, he whose intelligence (buddhi) is fully formed. He is therefore bhagavan, he who sees all parts (bhaga). In Jainism and Buddhism, the sage is a great teacher. In Hinduism, the sage is god, who defies the mortal body. God of Hinduism is limitless (ananta). This limitless god can "contract" himself and "bring himself down to the level of mortals". From here comes the concept of "avatar" (he who descends). From his mountaintop, Shiva sees all. But he is isolated up there. So the goddess brings him down to the plains, to Kashi, where the gaze is restricted by the horizon.

God who is "limitless" is very different from god who rejects the "false". The one is accommodating of human limitations. The other cannot tolerate human weakness. The one has no sense of urgency for it sees fear of death as delusion. The other wants to save the world before falsehood claims the world. The one is at peace. The other is always at war. Guess which god dominates the modern world.

Ironically, Hindu Right wing have started adopting the Abrahamic version of God. And the Left wing seems to agree with this definition of god. It has become the only definition of god, endorsed even by atheists and Bollywood.

The limitless god is too passive – it does not indulge cult leaders. Cult leaders want to be admired as heroes, and so they need villains. So they construct "false gods" – missionaries and secularists. They reject post-modern definitions of mythology. For them myth is "falsehood" not "subjective truth". The latter definition does not serve their ambitions. There is an epidemic of cult leaders in the Right wing, desperate seeking power, each one a jealous god. They don’t care for any truth but their own. So they tell stories, of how Hinduism is under threat and how everyone needs to be alert and fight back. But there is one key clause in a cult leaders story that often goes unnoticed: to win the battle against Christian missionaries, you have to recognise only their version of Hinduism with them as its true articulator. This they make themselves the chosen one! Other than cult followers, everyone can see the irony.

We often forget that one of the earliest form of "conversion" can be traced to Buddhism. It did this without force, without violence– through one leader (Buddha), one clear doctrine and set of rules (Dhamma), and through institutions (the Sangha). Buddhist monks did not speak of any "true" or "false" god, but he did offer the "cure for worldly suffering" revealed by his leader. For the common folk, this made Buddha, the source of the solution, a larger than life being, greater than man – a god! So eventually, ignoring earlier practices, gigantic images of Buddha started appearing, and being worshipped, in Central Asia, China and South East Asia. He who did not care for the gods, became a god. And when he became god, the many Gods of the Puranas, from Shiva to Kali to Krishna, ended up overshadowing him.

Many believe that Jesus was greatly influenced by Buddhism in his "lost years" and was inspired to create the "church", an idea that was alien to the earlier Jewish faith. When the church became powerful, the Roman empire adopted it. Instead of conquering tax-paying land for Rome, they new generals began conquering souls for the one true god. Later, with the rise of Science, god became secular "money" and the age of enlightenment became the age of colonisation. Secular thought propagated itself on the principles of the church – lessons of conversion informed many a marketing department. Brands became the new gods. Rockstars became the new gods.

We forget that stories influence stories. Just as Buddhism can influence Christianity, and Christianity can influence Capitalism and Communism, and the story of the "one true God" can influence truth-seeking scientists. Likewise, the story of the "limitless god" of Hinduism can also influence the limited truths of terrorists and activists.

Conversion believes that only one story will prevail at the end. Re-conversion believes that some stories are under threat. The tangible form of stories – customs, rituals, symbols – may die. The language (vac, in Vedas) may die but not the thought (manas, in Vedas). The intangible form of each and every story is eternal (sanatan, in the Vedas) and ever-changing (a-nitya, in the Vedas). Thus is how Vedic ideas survived despite the rise of Buddhism - reframing ideas locked in esoteric rituals into entertaining epics. This is why the Hindu concept of "history" is "a-historical". The limits of time are broken. The story, or rather idea of the story, belongs not just to the past but also to the present and the future. It recurs always. Conversion and re-conversion, conquest and liberation, follow each other like the recurring battle of the devas and the asuras. So it was, so it is and so it will be. Iti-hasa, even if the Hindu Right wing does not want to believe it.

Source: dailyo  

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Saturday, December 27, 2014

Fifty shades of saffron

Opinion » Comment                    December 27, 2014
Updated: December 27, 2014 01:50 IST

Satyabrata Pal

"Narendra Modi can pay tribute to Sardar Patel by making India 
proud rather than building his statue." Picture shows him with BJP 
leader L.K Advani in Kevadia village, Gujarat.    PTI

The danger now is that under an overtly Hindu government, discriminatory practices against the most vulnerable people will flourish even more

On December 11, 2014, when the U.N. General Assembly adopted June 21 as the International Day of Yoga, as recommended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India rejoiced. Never mind that the day before was the first Human Rights Day under his watch; this crept by unnoticed.

At the SAARC Summit, Mr. Modi declaimed, “As we seek to build bridges to prosperity, we must not lose sight of our responsibility to the millions living without hope.” He was, as always, matchless as a kathakar, an artiste whose fabulous retelling of fables reinforces them in the minds of the faithful as fact. But while his performances have zero defects, on the lives of the multitudes hanging on to his words, believing in them and daring to hope, they have had zero effect so far, because the responsibility of which the Prime Minister spoke is usually ignored.

In 1990, the U.N. launched the Human Development Report based on the challenging predicate that “people are the real wealth of a nation.” How wealthy are we really? After two decades of rapid GDP growth, we bestride SAARC like a colossus doing the splits, one foot splayed eastward to keep China out, the other westward to keep Pakistan down. We loom like a giant among midgets, but on every parameter that measures equity in development, there is little to choose between us and our neighbours.

The Human Development Index (HDI) for 2014 ranks us at 135 among 187 countries; Sri Lanka at 73 did way better than us, and we were shadowed by Bhutan at 136, Bangladesh at 142, Nepal at 145 and Pakistan at 146. The fact that India was a stable democracy, as the others were not, that our economy had galloped along, as theirs had not, had made very little difference to the lives of our citizens.

Within the HDI, the Gender Inequality Index which measures three critical parameters — reproductive health, women’s empowerment and their participation in the labour market — is particularly important because it shows how a society treats its more vulnerable half. Sri Lanka at 75 is well ahead of us, but so is Nepal at 98, Bhutan at 102 and Bangladesh at 115. India is in lock-step with Pakistan, both ranked at 127. The Criminal Law Amendment Act, which brought in far-reaching measures to protect women, is now almost two years old; sadly, it has made little difference.

Depth of deprivation

My five years on the National Human Rights Commission were a humbling experience. In 2009, we had 82,000 complaints, in 2013, a lakh. A five-member Commission could not possibly do justice to more than a fraction of these. We dismissed 60 per cent of complaints in limine, or at the outset, 11 per cent with directions to officials to act (but never had the time to check if they did) and transferred 6 per cent to the State Human Rights Commissions, which were mostly ramshackle.

Read: Universal rights and universal violations

Our investigative visits to rural India were dives into the darkness that contained the mass of the iceberg of which the complaints coming to us were only the tip. In a country still largely illiterate, a terrible violation of human rights in itself, very few knew the NHRC existed. Those who did wondered if it would be able to help; many thought it would not. For every complaint that came to us, a hundred did not, but since so many were on systemic problems affecting entire communities, they brought home to us the range, depth and persistence of discrimination and deprivation in India. The two are often linked, and that is the real cause of worry with our new dispensation. The poorest and the most vulnerable — women, Scheduled Tribes, Scheduled Castes and Muslims — suffer because the social bias against them is rooted in Hindu belief and practice, and still so strong that the laws meant to protect them are impotent. Even under a secular government, public servants would plead with the NHRC that there would be law and order problems if they tried to implement these. The danger now is that under a government so overtly Hindu, these practices will flourish even more. The hate speeches of Cabinet members signal where this could lead us.

“Discrimination and deprivation are often linked to one another, and that is the real cause of worry with our new dispensation”

Mr. Modi wants his party to be careful with their words, but there are fifty shades of saffron around, most of it strident. He wants civil servants to be sensitive, but they always are, to the wishes of the powers that be. He wants the police to be SMART, but they already are, reporting to the National Crime Records Bureau that in 2013 there were only two incidents of human rights violations by their personnel. The same year, 33,753 complaints to the NHRC, a third of the total received, were against the police, detailing how they preyed on those they should protect.

In Mr. Modi’s defence, these are national problems he has inherited, not created, but Gujarat is the template he holds up to the rest of India, and there are a range of impartial reports that show how cavalier it has been about the lives of the State’s people. A 2013 Lancet study found that among the 11 rich States, Gujarat had done the worst in bringing down the mortality rate of children under five, one of the Millennium Development Goals. The Census established that the sex ratio in Gujarat has declined from 934 in 1991 to 920 in 2001 to 918 in 2011. Not surprisingly, the NCRB data shows a high incidence of crimes against women. So too, the data shows, are crimes against Scheduled Castes, at levels higher than in the other developed States: Maharashtra, Punjab and Tamil Nadu. The ASER/Pratham Reports on Education show low percentages of students in Standard V who could read a Standard II text, and could do divisions. That is not a model to copy.

Dreadful cost

Despite what he said in Kathmandu, Mr. Modi’s record as Gujarat Chief Minister shows that his sights are set on prosperity, not on “the millions living without hope.” ‘Make in India’ is his priority, and there the signs are ominous. A few weeks back, ASSOCHAM issued an advertisement which announced, “Repeal of archaic laws is the need of modern times…ASSOCHAM has identified 105 laws for review, which can promote a better regulatory framework for successfully actualising Mr. Modi’s vision of ‘Make in India’.” These include 43 laws that protect human rights and safeguard labour welfare, including the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, Protection of Forest Rights Act, Inter-State Migrant Workers Act, Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, and the Minimum Wages Act. If these are the voices he listens to, development will come at a dreadful cost.

Read: Making human rights a reality

India’s governments have so far pursued development with a human face. Vast social welfare programmes protect those whom the market forces savage, but these are riddled with huge problems. For instance, hardly any materials go into the rural employment guarantee projects, but each year material costs claimed are well over 20 per cent of its budget. A survey done for the NHRC showed that 60 per cent of the allocation for the Integrated Child Development Services was being stolen. The list goes on. The answer does not lie in jettisoning these programmes, but in making them work better. Without them, rural India will empty out.

Our Prime Minister’s many admirers believe that Sardar Patel’s mantle has descended on him. Vallabhbhai Patel made India, Narendra Modi can unmake it. But with his extraordinary talents, integrity and ability, our Prime Minister can also be the making of India, and make India, all of India, proud. That should be his tribute to his idol, not the monstrous statue of the Sardar now rising in Gujarat like a prelapsarian Ozymandias.

(Satyabrata Pal is a former Member of the National Human Rights Commission.)

Source: The Hindu   

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Friday, December 26, 2014

A time of Christmas without Christians

Opinion » Comment                            December 27, 2014
Updated: December 27, 2014 01:26 IST

Sanjay Srivastava
"The manner in which Christmas has come to belong to all of us is not without consequences for a multi-religious society." Picture shows students dressed as Santa Claus ahead of Christmas day celebrations in Gurgaon.

A religious festival signifies something more than the consumption of commodities; it is meant to remind us of the different kinds of people in society

In New Gurgaon, where I live, Christmas is a very significant affair. This Christmas too, you might have been forgiven for thinking that significant sections of an electorate that voted for the Bharatiya Janata Party suddenly converted to Christianity. All over Gurgaon, Resident’s Welfare Associations organised Christmas fairs where children sang carols, santas gave away gifts, and people of all ages, dressed in red caps, exchanged Christmas greetings. Gurgaon’s Christmas is, of course, now a national event and my description could be applied to December 25 goings-on in a number of cities across India. However, when I rang a friend in Kerala to wish him “Merry Christmas,” he responded that someone else had rung him earlier in the morning, saying he was calling to greet him on what might be the last Christmas in India. Though said in jest (and in reference to recent anti-Christian violence), this comment sits oddly with what appears to be uninhibited and large-scale participation of non-Christian populations in Christmas celebrations. Or, does it? Is it possible that we might have, in fact, come to prefer Christmas without Christians? The manner in which Christmas has come to belong to all of us is not without consequences for a multi-religious society.

When I was small, Christmas was a day that belonged to a specific community. It was, in many cities of North India, referred to as bada din ( big day). “Bada Din Mubarak!” was the term I was taught to use as a greeting, if i came across any Christian on December 25. I don’t think I came across many and hence the greeting remained a pedagogic contrivance rather than customary practice. But what it did teach me, not in a self-conscious ‘secular’ manner but as part of casual, everyday life, was that a specific religious day and a specific religious community were intertwined and legitimate aspects of Indian life. As a child, because Christmas was not my festival, I and several others around me recognised it as a festival that belonged to another community, that was as real and legitimate as mine. In my imagination, Christmas was celebrated by real flesh and blood people who constituted actual communities. Their bada din signified something as valuable as the festivals that I took part in. Hindus and Christians existed as well-defined communities, but not hostile ones. That community was real to me precisely because Christmas and Christianity mapped on to each other.

In recent times, when Hindus have started to celebrate Christmas as their own, we have moved into an era where a festival of legitimate difference has transformed into one of a ritual of leisure and lifestyle. It becomes contiguous with taking a foreign holiday or buying a fridge. It need not remind us any longer of the legitimacy of the community for whom Christmas is something more than a ‘shopping mall festival’ but a fundamental way of defining community life. Celebrating the customs and rituals of another community is not itself a bad thing. However, in this case it appears that when Christmas becomes “our” festival, it ironically weakens the ability to recognise, respect and champion difference. The “mainstreaming” of Christmas sits alongside a growing indifference towards Christians: it is almost as if we can do it as well as them and don’t really need them. It, peculiarly enough, signifies a time of Christmas without Christians.

A shopping festival

The invention of Christmas as a shopping festival has a long history in the West, particularly in the context of late 19th century Britain. The more recent replication of this process in India is intimately tied to shifts in political and consumer cultures. It does, however, have a parallel in the 20th century’s manufacture of yoga as a lifestyle activity in the West, largely shorn of its philosophical bearings. The spread of yoga in the West did not lead to greater tolerance of Indians and the popularity of Christmas in India has little to do with an acceptance of religious differences. Indeed, it is the context of something quite the opposite: the symbolic production and consumption of different ways of being through consumerism that exists side-by-side with the actual suppression of difference. So, while we consume Christmas cake, we don’t seem very bothered by arson in churches. We have begun to prefer pre-packaged difference.

“Celebrating the rituals of another community is not a bad thing, but when Christmas becomes 'our' festival, it weakens the ability to recognise, and respect difference”

It is an odd situation, then, and quite different from when I was a child. Earlier, Christmas was not a festival of the Hindus but Christians were not identified as an enemy community. It was not a utopia of communal harmony but certainly different. Now, however, Christmas finds vigorous acceptance among the majority community — words can hardly convey the earnestness with which the children of my locality sing “Silent Night” — but there are hardly any mainstream murmurs (let alone roars) of protest against anti-Christian sentiments and practices. I don’t ever remember singing “Silent Night” and may have waited in vain to ambush a passing Christian (or anyone else) with a bada din greeting, but I also do not recall church burning and ‘ghar vapsi’ as normalised activities.

What is at stake is something much more fundamental than the tiring invocation of ‘secularism’ versus ‘fundamentalism.’ These categories may not be adequate to understand a present where some sections of the majority community adopt minority rituals but rejects minorities. When we become ‘shopping mall Christians’ — the Christmas celebration in my locality ended with an RWA-sponsored tambola — we forget that a religious festival signifies something more than the consumption of different commodities; it is meant to remind us of the different kinds of people in society. The current upsurge in Christmas celebrations appears, dangerously, to encourage the sense that it is our right to celebrate Christianity’s key event on one day of the year, without taking any responsibility for what happens to its adherents on the other days when we move on to some other form of consumption.

(Sanjay Srivastava is professor of Sociology at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.)

Source: The Hindu

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Thursday, December 25, 2014

Four reasons why Vajpayee doesn't deserve Bharat Ratna

The award is given in recognition of exceptional service rendered without distinction of race, occupation, position, or sex. Our former prime minister doesn't fulfil this criteria.

POLITICS  |   2-minute read |   24-12-2014

Md Hussain Rahmani @rahmaninama

President Pranab Mukherjee has announced India's highest civilian awards for former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and freedom fighter and scholar Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya (posthumously). In the latter case, the present regime is extending its drive to appropriate historical icons.

As always, the first reactions came on Twitter. Noted historian Ramchandra Guha tweeted, "Giving Vajpayee a Bharat Ratna is fine, but one should not award it to people dead or long dead. Awarding Malaviya is a mistake. If Malaviya, why not give Tagore, Phule, Tilak, Gokhale, Vivekananda, Akbar, Shivaji, Guru Nanak, Kabir, Ashoka, Bharat Ratnas too?"

However, in my view, conferring the Bharat Ratna to Vajpayee raises more important questions. Here are four strong reasons of mine that weaken Vajpayee's case for the prestigious award:

1. Bharat Ratna only for being a prime minister: While Bharat Ratna is an award for life-time service, it is only Vajpayee's prime ministerial tenure that is being considered as exceptional and unblemished. Even as PM, some of his decisions were highly controversial. One was the famous surrender to the IC-814 hijackers and releasing dreaded terrorist Masood Azhar in return for the safety of the hostages. After the release, Azhar's outfit, Jaish-e-Mohammed, carried out several attacks on our country, including the attack on Parliament in 2001.

2. Architect of Babri Masjid demolition: Listen to his speech that he delivered on December 5, 1992 in Ayodhya. He is openly calling for the demolition of the disputed structure. Was it without distinction of race or religion? What happened after the demolition will always haunt us as it severely dented India's pluralist nature and ethos.

3. Even his role during India's freedom struggle has always been in question: His controversial confessional statement before a magistrate during the Quit India Movement in 1942 indicted two freedom fighters. This aspect of his life was even raised by some of his detractors in Parliament after he became PM in 1998.

4. Vajpayee's communal rant: Contrary to his image as a moderate statesman, he spewed venom against the Muslim community during his speech at the BJP conclave in Goa, barely a few months after the 2002 Gujarat riots. This is what he said: “Wherever Muslims live, they don’t like to live in co-existence with others; they don’t like to mingle with others; and instead of propagating their ideas in a peaceful manner, they want to spread their faith by resorting to terror and threats.”

Do these comments reflect someone who deserves a Bharat Ratna?

Source: dailyo   

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Focus on policies, not events

Opinion » Editorial                December 25, 2014

In its first seven months, the Narendra Modi government seems to have appropriated as its own several of the red letter days in the calendar. Just as Teachers’ Day on September 5 became Guru Utsav, Gandhi Jayanthi on October 2 was used to showcase Mr. Modi’s Clean India campaign. Indira Gandhi’s death anniversary on October 31 was observed as National Unity Day in commemoration of the birth anniversary of Sardar Patel, one of Mr. Modi’s heroes. Even the birthdays of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi on November 14 and November 19 were sought to be turned into markers of his Clean India drive. Now, Christmas will be Good Governance Day, to mark the birthday of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Mr. Modi takes centre stage no matter whose birth or death anniversary it is. Whether India needs to observe any one day as Good Governance Day is debatable, and whether it ought to be the birthday of Mr. Vajpayee even more so. The irony of marking a public holiday as Good Governance Day seems to have been lost on Mr. Modi and his Cabinet colleagues. Several Ministries have asked officers to attend programmes on December 25 as part of Good Governance Day. Schools have been asked to encourage participation in an essay competition to mark the day. Although participation is voluntary, entries for the online competition would be accepted only on December 25.

The infusion of new meaning into traditional public events and holidays seems to be a deeply political act, particularly in its show of insensitivity to the sentiments of minorities. If the Congress suspected an attempt to appropriate, or worse, undermine, its icons through government-sponsored activities, school authorities, especially managements of Christian minority institutions, are worried about having to help, even if only tangentially, with events on Christmas day. Given the ideological orientation of the BJP government, what could have passed off as innocuous events to ritually mark anniversaries have become politically contentious. Although participation in the essay competition is voluntary, and it is to be held online, the very fact that the Navodaya Vidyalaya Samiti not only asked officials to ensure that activities relating to Good Governance Day be held in all schools in their respective regions, but also demanded a consolidated report to be sent to the Samiti indicates the pressure on officials to ensure compliance. Holidays are declared for a purpose, but it is not the kind of political purpose the government seems to have in mind. Instead of stirring controversies, it is time the Modi government, especially the Ministry of Human Resource Development, thought more in terms of policies and programmes than in terms of anniversaries and competitions.

Source: The Hindu   

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Monday, December 22, 2014

PK hits Hinduism more than Islam: But when religion itself is a lul thing, does it matter?

Conversion row: Right to religion is a basic right. Right to propagate is offensive and should be removed. Nobody should be allowed to propagate faith.

POLITICS  |  BREAKING NEWS INTO PIECES  |   6-minute read |   22-12-2014

Kamlesh Singh      @kamleshksingh

Everybody is talking religion. Everybody has one and nobody needs to be a pundit to talk religion. You don't need logic, reason or any basis to have your say because these things, to begin with, are alien to religion. The war zone starts right at our western border and goes on till Greece. The land of continuous conflict. At home, the reconversion drive in our midst that has pushed us into the middle of another religion-centric discourse. And as if that wasn't enough, Aamir Khan's PK is threatening would have made Rs 100 crores by the time you finish reading this. This sweet film has led to calls for boycott from the ones known as "Internet Hindus". They think it is an attack on their faith. It is time to clear the fog and throw some harsh light on hard facts.

PK as a film is overtly anti-religion, not just Hinduism. It attacks Hinduism more directly than other religions because the story is based in India, 80 per cent of which is Hindu. The story is about an alien trying to get help from God. Hindu hardliners' main peeve is that the film handles Islam with kid gloves. I would call that a smart move by Rajkumar Hirani. Hindus are not at the same level on offence meter as Muslims are. The siege syndrome has just infected Hindus. Among Muslims, it is at a critical level.

The boycott call is behind the support call both on box office cash register and on Twitter trends. Because on a meter of taking offence and ignoring to taking offence and killing people, Hindus are at Level Two. That's Boycott level. To demand a ban is Level Three. To enforce shutdowns is Level Four and going totally mental is Level Five. You can show a scared Shiva character running helter-skelter and get away with it. Showing the Prophet is a sure-shot suicidal move only the Scandinavian have attempted till now.

So, full marks to Rajkumar Hirani for keeping it sane. Hirani thought Hindus could take a joke or two. He has been quite there if not spot on. He hasn't been knifed yet. Lunatics, from all religions, have no sense of humour. But there is a greater chance of getting killed in ridiculing Islam than ridiculing Hindus or Christians. Hindus have too many Gods and godmen for everyone to get offended by one film. Hindus are also really old and settled being Hindus. Christianity, over 2,000 years old, is more settled than Islam, which is in its darkest period right now and is perceived to be at war, within and without. The golden rule of rubbing salt is you don't rub it on a fresh wound.

The film comes at a time when there is a fierce debate going on about conversion. As the Hindu Right wants converts to revert to Hinduism. Christians and Muslims believe conversion is a fundamental human right and a one-way street. The government wants the pitch to rise to a point where it can thrust a ban on conversion down everyone's throat.

The Constitution allows the right to follow one's faith and propagate it. Christians and Muslims want it to stay that way. Their claim is conversion, unless by force, fear or allurement, must be allowed. This is where the problem lies. There is nothing called conversion out of conscience. Luring someone in the name of heaven, or by instilling fear of hell, falls in the grey area between forceful and voluntary conversion. These grey areas will always lead to controversies. Missionaries are called missionaries because they have a mission. We all know what that is. It's called saving the soul. From the wrath of God?

The Hindu hardline calls it ghar wapsi, which itself is a can of worms. How long back do you want to go in history? Hindus were peaceful pagans before organised religion came into this land. They worshipped anything from sexual organs to trees to stones and so on. They had too many books and too many gods to be organised under one umbrella. The king was the avatar of Vishnu, revered and worshipped. The land provided plentiful to people who were busy living than looking for meaning of life. Talking to God was not the in-thing here like it was in the dreary deserts of Palestine where life was tough, the sun was harsh and people wondered about the meaning of life. They had a series of prophets until Muhammad put a full stop to it.

The pagans of this land had no problem in accepting Christianity because adding another man to worship in your pantheon full of gods isn't big deal. Hindus would have got Muhammad too into their fold. Depiction of Muhammad wasn't a big deal either. Persians and Indians drew the Prophet with all due respect when it did not invite instant death. But that was then. Islam spread like an all-engulfing ideology and it ruled lands so far and wide that its decree mattered.

Hindus, unless strictly prohibited, fund nothing wrong in pluralism when it came to worshipping all gods and avatars. Mahavir and Buddha were widely accepted as avatars. Guru Nanak founded a unique amalgamation of faiths and Hindus and Sikhs were visiting each other's places of worship. They continue doing so. Since it was allowed, Hindus worshipped Muslim saints as their own and continue doing so. There was no one Hinduism until Hindus were identified as Hindus, by the others. You know where the word Hindu came from and all that jazz. Besides they were no longer rulers of the land and the newly-arrived religious people were, they didn't want to be left out. They brought out their books. They brought out their philosophies and looked for syncretism within. They accepted the moniker Hindu and began identifying with it. What the people of the book called pagans progressed into a religion, sort of. No longer a way of life. They didn't have a word for religion because dharma means principles, not a sect or faith.

Religion, as it happens, tends to consolidate and all it needs is enough centrifugal force. The centuries when Islam and Christianity spread did not belong to Hindu rulers, per se. The siege mentality wasn't as pervasive so they were fighting among sects, caste or language. Like Islam had/has different versions and a central version, Hinduism began acquiring strengths/weaknesses of Islam. If there could ever be Wahhabism outside Muslims, we see that in action today. There is a great deal of pressure to bring homogeneity. A tradition as diverse as Hinduism is being homogenised in a slow, painful process. The all-new assertive Hindutva has replaced the good old inclusive Hinduism. There is no central authority yet but there is a sustained effort to create one. A centre around which everything moves. The BJP's historic victory is generating the centrifugal force to make the Sangh Parivar the centre of political Hinduism. Political Islam has wreaked havoc in places it held sway. Political Hinduism will be equally destructive, if not worse.

The conversion debate will not end until conversions continue. There is need to snip the right to religion and restrict it to that. Propagating one's religion cannot be a fundamental right. Isn't developing a scientific temperament among our fundamental duties? A nation that insists on rights and ignores its duties is a nation headed for a mess. Every citizen should have the absolute right to follow his/her religion as belief must remain a basic right in any democracy. Propagating your belief, which is ridiculously unscientific and fantastically stupid, is a dangerous luxury if we need to move towards being a rational society.

Source: dailyo 

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Saturday, December 20, 2014

An unconstitutional proposal

Written by Sanjay Nirupam 2 | New Delhi | Posted: December 20, 2014 12:21 am

 Communalism is the core ideology of the BJP and religious polarisation its main political programme, it seems. To run this programme and prop up its ideology, it has again raked up the issue of religious conversions. This issue, which resurfaced due to the recent Agra conversions orchestrated by persons linked to the BJP through the Dharm Jagran Samiti, has rocked both Houses of Parliament. What happened in Agra was unconstitutional, unethical, immoral and illegal, where Muslims were lured to convert with the offer of BPL ration cards. When the opposition raised this issue in Lok Sabha, the ruling BJP was defenceless. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Venkaiah Naidu jumped into the debate, saying that since childhood, he had dreamt of a ban on all sorts of religious conversions and that the government is ready to enact an anti-conversion law. This was a frivolous argument, a face-saver. But the BJP has succeeded in dragging the opposition into the debate.

The Constitution does not provide for an anti-conversion law. It gives freedom of religion to all its citizens. Article 25(1) states: “Subject to public order, morality and health and to other provisions of this part, all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and right to profess, practise and propagate religion.” No immoral act is allowed in the propagation of religion and social health has to be maintained. India has been a pluralistic religious society for centuries. Our forefathers, while writing the Constitution, had adopted a structure based on the values of liberal, democratic and secular thought. The aspect of freedom of religion enshrined in our Constitution has been debated in the past. From the lower courts to the Supreme Court, the issue of religious conversions has been dealt with in depth. The SC has upheld the constitutional provisions in the past. In its 235th report, the Law Commission of India dealt with the issue while prescribing the mode of proof for conversions and reconversions to another religion, suggesting a law on conversions rather than an anti-conversion law. It says: “It is well settled that freedom of conscience and the right to profess a religion implies freedom to change religion as well. It is pertinent to mention that Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights specifically lays down that the freedom of conscience and religion includes freedom to change religion or belief.” It has further quoted the judgment of Justice R. Basant in a marriage dispute case: “Religious conversions may appear to many in the Indian mindset to be unnecessary, puerile and a negation of the very concept of respect of both the religions and the followers of such religion. But, certainly, the freedom of faith guaranteed by the Constitution may not justify the negation of the right to pursue the chosen faith by conversion where necessary”. It appears that Naidu has conveniently chosen to ignore this report.

The issue of religious conversion and the right to propagate religion was debated even before Parliament came into existence. On December 6, 1948, in a Constituent Assembly debate, Loknath Mishra expressed apprehensions about the liberal approach. He said, “Indeed, in no constitution of the world [is the] right to propagate religion a fundamental right and justifiable.” He was countered by other members and finally his objection was set aside. Laxmikant Maitra countered him: “Propagation does not necessarily mean seeking converts by force of arms, by the sword or by coercion. But, why should an obstacle stand in the way if by exposition, illustration or persuasion you could convey your own religious faith to others?” Echoing the same view, K.M. Munshi said: “… under [the] freedom of speech which the Constitution guarantees, it will be open to any religious community to persuade other people to join their faith. So long as religion is religion, conversion by free exercise of conscience has to be recognised.”

Our Constitution is clear about the concept of the propagation of religion and conversions. They are two sides of the same coin, and guaranteed as a fundamental right. But, to my mind, if any conversion is affected by coercion, inducement or allurement, it is unconstitutional. Taking this aspect into account, many state governments have enacted laws to check forceful conversions, like Madhya Pradesh and Odisha, etc. However, interestingly, the names of these acts do not convey the essence of conversion. For example, the MP act is known as the Madhya Pradesh Dharma Swatantrya Adhiniyam, 1968 and the Odisha act is the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act, 1967. Even the name of the laws enacted to check conversion by state governments refrain from using the word “conversion” because it is against the spirit of the Constitution.

On January 17, 1977, the SC delivered a judgment in Rev. Stanislaus vs State of Madhya Pradesh, where it explained the constitutionality of these state acts and denounced forceful conversions. The SC quoted the observation of the high court of Madhya Pradesh: “What is penalised is conversion by force, fraud or by allurement. The other element is that every person has a right to profess his own religion and to act according to it. Any interference with that right of the other person by resorting to conversion by force or allurement cannot, in our opinion, be said to contravene Article 25(1) of the Constitution of India, as the article guarantees religious freedom subject to public health.”

In the final analysis, the BJP must understand and accept the difference between conversions and forceful conversions. The BJP lost its pitch in UP when it raked up the issue of “love jihad” before the by-elections. The Agra conversions are a ploy to polarise the state’s voters, keeping the UP elections in mind. The BJP should focus on the development agenda and refrain from divisive politics on the basis of religion. The sinister design, especially by the BJP fringe, to polarise voters will not yield political dividends but instead ensure the party’s early exit from power. The electorate, particularly young voters, voted for socio-economic development and will not tolerate any deviation from this agenda.

The writer, a former MP, is a senior Congress leader

Source: indianexpress

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

On Christmas Day BJP MPs will have their hands full

News » National         New Delhi, December 17, 2014
Updated: December 17, 2014 02:17 IST

Smita Gupta

Modi govt. is observing Good Governance Day on that day

The Modi government’s next mega event to showcase its achievements and intentions will be on December 25: in the 281 constituencies that they represent, BJP MPs will be hard at work, celebrating Good Governance Day as a tribute to former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, whose birthday falls on that day.

There will be no Christmas Day for any of them.

Leading the way will be Prime Minister Narendra Modi who will spend the day in Varanasi.

Simultaneously, the Union Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, sources said, has been asked to activate the 2,70,000 youth clubs around the country that come under the Nehru Yuva Kendra — thus named by an earlier government — to also celebrate Christmas Day as Good Governance Day.

So, even as Parliament remained convulsed on the issue of official circulars on Good Governance Day for the second consecutive day, and the Modi government clarified that schools would not be open on Christmas Day, it went ahead with other plans for the day.

When asked how this would be taken by Christians, especially in some States in the north-east where the majority of the population belong to the community, top sources in the Ministry insisted that it was “voluntary,” and that those who did not want to participate in it were free to do so. Surely some other day could have been chosen? It can’t be helped, they said as the government wanted to institute Mr. Vajpayee’s birthday as Good Governance Day.

The day will begin at 7 a.m., said one BJP MP, with yet one more observance of the government’s flagship Swatch Bharat Abhiyan, a half marathon and a slew of other programmes to draw in as many young participants as possible. Everything should end sometime in the afternoon.

Indeed, at the BJP parliamentary party meeting on Tuesday, Mr. Modi told MPs that a range of seminars, conferences, debates and discussions on good governance, addressed by top BJP leaders, would mark the day. Suggestions from the public to improve governance would be elicited and literature on the subject relating to Mr. Vajpayee’s six-year tenure as Prime Minister as well as the initiatives taken by the present government in its first six months will be distributed. Additionally, health, eye-care and blood donation camps, and distribution of blankets and other essentials to the poor in hospitals will mark the day.

Source: The Hindu

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Gonds may have migrated from Indus Valley

Updated: December 17, 2014 00:55 IST

S. Harpal Singh
CRUCIAL LINK TO THE PAST: The photograph found in a cave in Hampi. 
Photo: Special Arrangement.    The Hindu

On the goddess Kotamma temple woollen market way there is a rocky roof shelter for shepherds and sheep to stay at night up to morning.” This innocuous sounding statement could actually be a revolutionary find linking the adivasi Gond tribe to the Indus Valley civilisation, which flourished between 2500 B.C. and 1750 BC.

The sentence emerged after a set of 19 pictographs from a cave in Hampi were deciphered using root morphemes of Gondi language, considered by many eminent linguists as a proto Dravidian language. Eleven of the Hampi pictographs resemble those of the civilisation, according to Dr. K.M. Metry, Head and Dean, Social Sciences, Kannada University, Hampi; Dr. Motiravan Kangali, a linguist and expert in Gondi language and culture from Nagpur, Maharashtra; and his associate Prakash Salame, also an expert in Gondi.

They were in Utnoor to participate in the 4th National workshop on standardisation of Gondi dictionary when they spoke to The Hindu about their study of the pictographs. Though the ‘discovery’ is yet to be authenticated, Dr. Metry and his associates are very optimistic about their work.

“Instead of looking at the painting from an archaeological or purely linguistic point of view, we took the cultural way to decipher the pictographs. Gondi culture being totemic, has a lot of such symbols also associated with Ghotul schools,” said Dr. Metry.

“Gondi is a proto Dravidian language and gives enough scope for studying the pictographs though its root morphemes,” observed Dr. Kangali. “Application of the root morphemes helped us in deciphering the 19 pictographs,” he added.

If the discovery stands the scrutiny of experts in the field, it would mean that the Gonds living in central and southern India could have migrated from the Indus Valley civilisation. “Meanwhile, we will continue with our work applying it to other paintings in the Hampi area to establish a Gondi-Harappan link,” the Professor said.

Source: The Hindu

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Knights in saffron armour

The unique feature of Hinduism is its diversity and fluidity.

POLITICS  |   6-minute read |   16-12-2014

Devdutt Pattanaik @devduttmyth

The unique feature of Hinduism is its diversity and fluidity.

It is easy to use diversity as a tool to stifle all positive conversations on Hinduism, and reduce popular Hinduism to "patriarchal, casteist, hegemonic Brahminism", a noticeable trend amongst many left wing, even secular, intellectuals of India.

Many Euro-American academicians have also been arguing for some time that there is absolutely nothing common in the diverse communities of Hindus and that "Hinduism" is a false construct created by the British who used the word "Hindu" for the first time in the 19th century for administrative convenience to bundle together unrelated groups who were not "people of the book".

This naturally angers those who strive to create a united Hindu political force that the world cannot ignore. Explaining how Hinduism is a complex adaptive system (a phrase used by author Sanjeev Sanyal is tough). It seems far easier to stifle all conversations on Hindu diversity and seek construction of a neo-Hinduism rooted to one language (Sanskrit), one book (Bhagavad Gita), one system (jati), one way of living (vegetarian, heterosexual, patriarchal) and "reverse" conversions (ghar-vaapsi). This institutionalised religion (sangha) is protected by missionaries (pracharak) who function as celibate, saffron-robed warrior knights who need to wield, according to the fiery Yogi Adityanath, the "book" (shastra) and "the weapon" (shaastra), rosary (mala) and a lance (bhala). They call this neo-Hinduism, rather ironically, a timeless faith (sanatan dharma).

Timeless faiths need no protection. But knights need dragons (secularists, Christians, Muslims) and damsels in distress (Bharat Mata). And they end up throwing the damsel in an ivory tower, restraining her with new rules and definitions, allegedly for her own good!

The idea of chivalrous knights in shining armour emerged in medieval Europe and was popularised by bards known as troubadours. The chivalrous knights did not fight for glory, or spoils of war, but for goodness and righteousness. They were imagined as selfless men who believed in pure love – who stayed celibate in the service of a woman they loved, a woman of high rank, a queen usually, who was married off to another and so unobtainable.

Eventually, she was identified with the Virgin Mary. She was Notre Dame (Our Lady, in French). Did Notre Dame inspire the concept of Mother India? Are the preachers and defenders of neo-Hinduism inspired by the idea of the celibate chivalrous knight? We can only speculate.

The difference between Hinduism and Abrahamic faiths is rather stark. For example, in Hinduism, there is no concept of "false" god or "true" god. Ideas like "Satya Narayana" (True God) emerged in India only after the advent of Islam. More popular is instead the idea that all gods (spelt in plural and without capitalisation) are manifestations of God. Or that every god can be God sometime. Thus Shiva is God. Vishnu is also God. They are different to look at. Their stories are different. But in essence, they are same. Further, Hinduism has the concept of the Goddess. And Goddess is not a female form of God. She is independent of God, one who enables the divinity of God. Thus Shiva is shava (corpse) without Shakti. And Vishnu exists to serve as go-pala (cowherd) to go-mata (the earth-goddess).

Hinduism's complexity, fluidity and diversity has always been problematic to many Hindus. Unconsciously there was a need to get validation from the West. Nowhere is the desire to stifle Hinduism diversity more evident than in the obsession with Bhagavad Gita. Few realise that it is but one of many Gitas. There is Guru Gita, from the Skanda Purana, in which Shiva sings in response to a query by his consort, Shakti, about the meaning of one who facilitates spiritual growth; Ganesh Gita, which is part of Ganesh Purana, where Ganesha as Gajanana explains to king Varenya the truth about the world; Avadhuta Gita, in which the mendicant Dattatreya, first guru to all tantriks, sings about the nature of reality; Ashtavakra Gita, in which the hermit Ashtavakra, following a question by king Janaka, explores the nature of the soul; Rama Gita, from Ananda Ramayana, in which Ram, king of Ayodhya, consoles his brother, Lakshman, after the latter has abandoned Ram’s wife, Sita, in the forest; Uddhava Gita, also known as Hamsa Gita, from the Bhagavat Purana, in which Krishna, before leaving earth and returning to his heaven, Vaikuntha, summarises the wisdom of his life to his companion Uddhava; Vyadha Gita, from the Mahabharata, in which the butcher sings a song to explain to an arrogant hermit that being a householder, performing one’s duties, and serving others, is perhaps as important spiritually, if not more, than renouncing the world and serving only oneself; Anu Gita, narrated once again by Krishna to Arjun, but after the war, when Arjun’s brothers, the Pandavas, have firmly established their rule after defeating their cousins, the Pandavas; Devi Gita, where wisdom is given by the Goddess, not God.

In the late 18th century, the East India Company decided to publish the English translation of the Bhagavad Gita. Before that the Bhagavad Gita was known to Indians through songs of poet-saints like Dyaneshwara of Maharashtra (13th century) and Balarama Das of Odisha (15th century), which captured the spirit of the Sanskrit text but focussed on the path of devotion (bhakti marga). The Sanskrit text itself was restricted to Brahmins scholars such as Shankara (eight century), Ramanuja (11th century) and Madhava (12th century) who wrote long commentaries on it and focussed on its intellectual side (gyan yoga). When it was put down in writing, 2,000 years ago, the purpose was to counter the rise of monastic orders such as Buddhism by amplifying the value of ritual duty and social obligations (karma yoga).

It remains a mystery what made Bhagavad Gita more popular than the others. Was it more comprehensive? Was it more dramatic as it is takes place on a battlefield between two armies on the brink of war? Did its monotheistic tilt make it popular when Muslim and Christian rulers dominated the land? Internal correspondence of the East India Company reveals publication of this document was justified on ground that Gita’s monotheistic spirit aligned with the monotheistic spirit of Christianity, and was less confusing than polytheistic Vedas. This made Hinduism more comprehensible, and less fluid, enabling even many of India’s founding fathers, lawyers mostly, who went to London for further studies, connect with the glory of their Hindu past, for the first time in their lives. This naturally led to the meteoric rise of the Bhagavad Gita, transforming this Vaishnava document into the "Hindu Bible" with its own "One True God".

The saffron knights will argue, Hinduism was always monotheistic! We did not need the British, or the Muslim before that, to make it monotheistic. They hate the suggestion that theism itself emerged later in Hinduism, that the Vedas seem rather agnostic in many portions, and that the Hindu concept of God, with Goddess, is radically different from the concept of God in Abrahamic faiths. Such historical analysis of Hinduism angers the saffron knight. They want their neo-Hinduism damsel to be static and stagnant, defined by their needs and their limited knowledge and their desire to measure up to the Abrahamic faiths. They cannot handle the idea that Hinduism is a self-sustaining (swayambhu, in Sanskrit) evolving entity, indifferent to all those who seek to control, conquer or rescue her.

Source: dailyo

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Monday, December 15, 2014

Christmas: Why Vajpayee would have given it off to this government

Good governance also means inclusive governance. Atal Bihari Vajpayee knew this. The RSS and Smriti Irani don't.

POLITICS  |   4-minute read |   15-12-2014

Aditya Menon @AdityaMenon22

Lal Krishna Advani seldom tires of narrating how the Bharatiya Janata Party, like Jesus Christ, was crucified on Good Friday but was resurrected on Easter Sunday. On April 4, 1980, which was Good Friday,  the Janata Party passed a resolution expelling all former Jana Sangh members from the party as they refused to give up membership of the RSS, an event that Advani compares to the crucifixion. Two days later, on Easter Sunday, the BJP was formed with Atal Bihari Vajpayee as its first president, which according to Advani was akin to Christ's resurrection.

Advani would be sad today as his party's government at the Centre seems to be keen on making students choose between Christ and Vajpayee.

On December 2, Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared that Vajpayee's birthday December 25 should be celebrated as Good Governance Day. More than eager to implement this order, the Commissioner of the Navodaya Vidyalaya Samiti, who is directly under the HRD ministry, issued a circular instructing all Navodaya Vidyalayas to hold quiz competitions, screen documentaries on best practices in good governance on December 24-25 to celebrate Good Governance Day.

The Navodaya Vidyalaya circular further reveals that CBSE will be organising an essay competition on December 24 and 25, the topics for which will be declared on December 23.

A newspaper report cited the circular to insinuate that the government wants to scrap Christmas as a holiday in government schools. An angry Smriti Irani tweeted her outrage at the report which she termed as "deliberate mischief by the reporter" and demanded a retraction by the newspaper.

The HRD ministry issued a rejoinder to the story stating that the "essay competition is voluntary" and that the quiz competitions, documentaries and other events were restricted to Navodaya Vidyalayas which were residential schools and had holiday cycles based on the seasons.

The minister also stated that the essay competition that the CBSE has instructed schools to organise, is purely an online one.

Now, while the newspaper report might have exaggerated the contents of the circular suggesting that Christmas might no longer be a holiday, the HRD ministry's explanation is far from satisfactory.

Firstly, Irani's assertion that the essay competition will be a purely online one is wrong as the instructions in the circular clearly state that "submissions will be accepted online and offline" on December 24 and 25. So how can students submit their essays offline on December 25 if the schools are closed for Christmas?

Secondly, the HRD ministry's argument that it is ok to hold the celebrations - quiz competitions, documentary screenings and essay writing competitions - at Navodaya Vidyalayas because their vacation cycle is different, is deeply problematic. How are the Christian students who study at Navodaya Vidyalayas expected to participate in these events? As per 2007 figures, Navodaya Vidyalayas have 1.89 lakh students. If even two per cent of them are Christian, it would mean that over 3,600 students would have to make a choice between celebrating their main festival and participating in Good Governance day celebrations. Surely, Christians are within the ambit of Modi's definition of good governance.

But the issue here isn't just the HRD ministry's overzealous implementation of Modi's plan. We must also examine Modi's intentions behind declaring December 25 as Good Governance Day. October 31, Sardar Patel's birthday, was declared as national unity day not just to celebrate Patel's legacy but also to overshadow the other event that took place on that day: Indira Gandhi's assassination. He also tried to delink Jawaharlal Nehru from Children's Day by declaring November 14 as Bal Swachhta Divas.

Perhaps, Modi is trying to do the same thing with December 25 as well. Till now, Christmas has never been a purely Christian festival, particularly for children. Christmas is still very central to the imagination of many non-Christian children, be it through the legend of Santa Claus or Christmas carols or the beautiful Christmas Tree that they enjoy decorating.

The Hindu Right has often frowned upon such celebrations which it believes are subtle ways Christians use to influence others. By making school children write on good governance instead of decorate Christmas trees could be a way of countering this.

But for the Sangh, December 25 will neither be Christmas Day nor Good Governance Day.

This December 25, the Sangh plans to convert at least 4,000 Christian and 1,000 Muslim families to Hinduism in a grand ceremony in Aligarh led by BJP leader Yogi Adityanath.  The Bajrang Dal, the sword arm of Vishwa Hindu Parishad, has been entrusted with the homecoming programme to be held at Maheshwari College in Aligarh. The neo-converts will be sprinkled with holy Ganga water and a havan (sacrificial fire) will be conducted. Needless to say, Vajpayee won't even find a mention in the ceremony, so much for the Sangh's commitment to honouring the former prime minister.

Good governance also means inclusive governance. Vajpayee knew this. The Sangh and Smriti Irani don't.

Source: dailyo


Read also: 

Smriti Irani denies report of school remaining open on Christmas

Updated: December 15, 2014 20:54 IST



 The issue was raised in the Lok Sabha by K.C. Venugopal (Congress) and, for the first time, the AIADMK also joined the Opposition in protesting the move. Mr. Venugopal read out from a letter sent by Navodaya Vidyalaya Samiti (NVS) Commissioner G.S. Bothyal to all regional offices on December 10, listing the activities to be organised in Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas (JNVs) on December 25.

The letter says: “This is with regard to celebration of the birthday of Atal Behari Vajpayee and Madan Mohan Malviya as ‘Good Governance Day’ on December 25’’ and lists declamation contest, quiz competition, screening of best practises on good governance and innovative programmes as the activities to be organised to “mark the occasion in its true spirit.”

Regional commissioners have been told to “encourage participation of students” and submit a “consolidated report specifying activities carried out in all JNVs,” with photographs/video recordings, to the Commissioner’s office on December 25 itself.

According to this letter, the Central Board of Secondary Education will also be organising competitions under the CBSE Expression Series on Good Governance on December 24 and 25. However, till date, the CBSE has not sent any separate circular to its affiliated schools.

School principals and parents point out that this is becoming a pattern with school education under the BJP government; earlier instances were Teachers’ Day when Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed children and the Swachch Bharat campaign on Gandhi Jayanti, October 2. “There seems to be a design to replace the original significance of the day by creating a new one,” noted one principal.

Source: The Hindu

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Modi, conversion is a slap in the face of India

It is a shameless mess of anger, bigotry and coercion which threatens our multi-religious nation.

POLITICS   |   4-minute read |   15-12-2014

Rajeev Dhavan

Conversion, reconversion, counter-conversion and victimisation of Hindu converts to any other faith. What a shameless mess of anger, bigotry, threats and coercion.

On December 8, 2014, there was a havan in Agra, by offshoots of the RSS and the Bajrang Dal, who "reconverted" 200 Muslims into the Hindu fold. Muslims were promised Aadhar cards, IDs and registration as BPL (Below Poverty Line). Amidst chants and priestly ceremonies, vermilion was put on Muslim foreheads as they washed the feet of Hindu idols. Most Muslims said they were lured, and asserted that they were Muslims. Farhan, a poor Muslim put it well: “If 40 saffron-scarved persons stand on your head, you do what they want.”

The Hindutva juggernaut is on the roll. The plan is to have 600 conversion sammelans. After Balarampur and Agra will come Ghazipur and Aligarh on Christmas day. The rest will follow. This unrelenting Hindutva crusade in the name of Hinduism is shamelessly subversive by a religion which does not proselyte.


The BJP suggested the remedy lay in passing an anti-conversion legislation. Such anti-conversion legislation has been used in the past to terrorise non-Hindus. Before independence it existed in princely states in Rajgarh (1936), Bihar (1942) Sarguja and Udaipur. After independence, the first round of legislation was in Orissa (1967) and Madhya Pradesh (1968). The Orissa legislation was struck down and its MP counterpart upheld by their respective high courts.

In the Stanislaus case (1977), the Supreme Court upheld the acts without examining them. Its logic was that Article 25 of the Constitution specifically guaranteed the right to “propagate” one’s faith, but not to convert. This clumsy judgment was welcomed by Hindu fundamentalists. Unfortunately in the Satya Narayan case (2003), justice Khare and Sinha showed extreme indiscipline, to affirm Stanislaus without a notice to the other side. After Stanislaus, the legislation was passed in Arunachal Pradesh (1978), Chhattisgarh (2202), Himachal Pradesh (2006) and Rajasthan (2008).

When Rajasthan wanted to make its law stricter, governor Pratibha Patil killed the Bill by reserving it for presidential assent. Gujarat’s anti-conversation laws were passed in 2003; with a later proactive amendment by Narendra Modi that conversions between Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs were not conversion because they were part of the same Hindu faith. Governor Sharma ordered reconsideration and Modi withdrew under pressure.

All these statutes decry conversion by force, misrepresentation or inducement. Fair enough. India’s Penal Code (IPC) treats such conversions as cheating and punishes those who promote enmity and outrage religious feelings (Sections 153A, 295A of the IPC). By this test, the RSS and Bajrang Dal initiative in Agra and 600 planned sammelans are illegal as disturbing communal harmony. Anti-conversion acts are not that simple.


The simple model is to introduce criminal consequences, including making them cognisable (investigation by police) and non-bailable. The second model may be called the surveillance model, followed in MP, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Arunachal Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh. Here, prior intimation of a conversion has to be given to the magistrate who can inquire into any “complaint or information”. Significantly, Parliament has refused to pass the Indian Conversion (Regulation and Registration) Bill, 1954 and the Backward Communities (Religion Protection) Bill 1960. A 1978 bill lapsed. The response of the Modi government on December 12, 2014 to the recent conversions in Agra is to suggest an anti-conversion Bill. Such statutes are designed to harass Christians, Muslims and other minorities through surveillance and punishment.

Technically, conversion by Hindus will also come under the proposed bill. But we all know there is a huge difference of application. Such laws are inflicted on minorities and reticent in their use on Hindus. Modi’s strategy is brilliant in its deceit. First, his rank and file create Agra and then his government suggest this odious solution as a panacea. Create a crisis and propose a solution which Parliament has resisted for 64 years. Freedom of religion by threats and criminalisation is not acceptable.


Hindutva adherents must recognise that Hindus left the faith because of some aspects of Hinduism which can be considered offensive. Buddhism posed a threat to Hindus over centuries because of the caste system and Buddhism’s innate attractiveness. It took the Shankaracharya to simplify the Hindu faith to some extent even as lapses continue. Even if conversions took place in the Muslim era (1206 -1857) and the Christian era (1700-1947) to curry favour with the rulers, after many generations today’s Muslims and Christians remain steadfast in their faith.

Recent conversions from Hinduism are symbolised by Ambedkar’s conversion to Buddhism. If Hinduism were to introspect, one would find an apparatus of cruel absurdities in an otherwise creditable faith. What we now have is a political Hinduism backed by arrogance, ignorance and threats. When Gujarat burned, Modi was complicit. Today, he is the prime minister of India. What is expected from him is a severe condemnation of the events in Agra, the one planned in Aligarh and the 600 to follow. Is Modi himself truly a Hindu? I think in name only. The RSS "short pants" brigade was modelled on Nazi lines. Modi needs the RSS and others for political victory, even if at times limits of decency have been crossed.

India is the greatest multicultural, multi-religious nation in the world, with traditions of tolerance and co-existence. Mr Modi — don’t let your electoral supporters spoil this.

Source: dailyo

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Sunday, December 14, 2014

Sanskrit deserves more than slogans

Vaishna Roy

December 15, 2014    Updated: December 15, 2014 01:31 IST

Illustration: Satwik Gade

Making Sanskrit compulsory does not give us even a glimpse into the immensity of the language’s grammar or its soaring poetry and philosophy

Philologist William Jones famously described it as “more perfect than Greek, more copious than Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either.” Layered and complex, Sanskrit is one of our richest legacies. With its perfect grammar, its capacity for poetry, its synonyms and metaphors, it’s a linguist’s and philologist’s delight. Wanting to return to Sanskrit some of its status is not just commendable but crucial, but as always we are not interested in the big picture. We don’t want solutions that need hard work or academic rigour, just trite and superficial truisms. The idea to make Sanskrit mandatory in schools or to declare the Bhagavad Gita the “national scripture” is along the same lines. It’s important to at least get the premise right before we declare that Sanskrit is “the language of our country. Everything was written in Sanskrit thousands of years ago ...” as Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Ashok Singhal declared at last month’s World Hindu Congress, when he said ominously that many things would soon be made compulsory in India.

First of all, consider that Sanskrit was never the language of our masses. It’s always been the medium of instruction, the classical and liturgical language in which grammar, science, religion and philosophy were written. The word Sanskrit comes from sanskrita or refined. The everyday language of people was Prakrit from prakriti for natural or common. In fact, several scholars consider that Sanskrit originated not so much as a disparate language but as a superior and polished version of speech (samskrita vak or polished speech). It coexisted with local dialects and these vocabularies intermingled extensively — Hindi, Bengali, Bhojpuri, Telugu, Malayalam all sharing etymological roots.

Language of liturgy

Also, Sanskrit was actually divisive and sowed some of the first seeds of segregation in Indian society. Because it was complex and highly evolved, its knowledge began to mark speakers as belonging to the wealthy and educated classes. From there it was a short step to Sanskrit being taught only to upper castes and then only to Brahmins and priests. If Sanskrit got marginalised, it was not so much because foreign languages wiped it out, but because it chose to confine itself to a narrower and narrower space until it was soon exclusively the language of liturgy alone, learnt only by priests, who grew into an esoteric cabal.

The Bhakti movement was born as a reaction to the priestly class’s appropriation of language and religion. Poet-saints such as Kabir and Tulsidas dumped not just the ritualism and caste system of extant Hinduism, but also Sanskrit, its language. An extraordinary body of prose and poetry in the vernacular mushroomed in this era — Kabir wrote his dohe in Braj Bhasha, Tulsidas in Braj and Awadhi, Tukaram and Namdev in Marathi, Nanak in Gurmukhi. In fact, even the much earlier Mauryan era edicts of Ashoka are in Prakrit.

Sanskrit in school

Studying in a Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) school, we had Sanskrit till Class 8. A bit of an ear for linguistics and you recognised half the words because Sanskrit shares cognates with almost every Indo-European language. Then you learnt by rote the declensions of various common shabdas. You spouted these, did some basic translation and verb matching, and were pretty much guaranteed at least 90 per cent in exams. If Sanskrit is made mandatory, that’s what students will largely experience. Nothing traumatic or difficult but nothing very meaningful either. The point I am making is this: what we were taught did not give us even a glimpse into the immensity of the language’s grammar or its soaring poetry and philosophy.

We Indians love symbolic gestures, and that’s what “making Sanskrit mandatory” is about. It’s another bronze statue, another slogan — the ‘Don’t Horn’ on the back of a truck — that won’t achieve anything real. Students will mug up shabdas for exams and still learn German in private. But, in that narrow sense, Sanskrit is already available from institutes such as Samskrita Bharati, which conduct classes and award diplomas for anyone who cares to look.

We don’t need that sort of shallow familiarity because without social currency, a language cannot survive anyway. It’s more important to preserve Sanskrit academically rather than colloquially.

The same groups that are so quick to ban texts at universities would do well to do something proactive instead, such as demand the inclusion of translated Sanskrit poetry and drama into syllabi. I have friends with fancy degrees in Comparative Literature or Philosophy who would be hard-pressed to identify Bhavabhuti but can spout “Odysseus.” We have Indian publishers who produce handcrafted, collector’s editions of Sophocles’ works — why not something similar for “Mricchakatika”?

In fact, if knowledge and learning were not as Eurocentric as it is today, any self-respecting university would intuitively include Sanskrit texts, as they do Greek, in the canon of world literature. Not only is Panini’s “Patanjali” the world’s earliest work in linguistics and phonetics (and the foundation for most modern linguistics), there is no grammar as detailed or logical. We need Indologists pushing for these quiet, back-end but ultimately significant changes.

A practical approach

Real renewal happens not in shrill sloganeering but here — in funding top-notch translations, textbooks and libraries; in sponsoring research chairs that produce more Sanskritists in India than abroad; in high-paid professorships that encourage the study of Indology rather than English Literature. How about pushing for short courses at prestigious universities worldwide where students can earn extra credits?

Most important, it means divorcing the religious from the linguistic, so that Sanskrit is deconstructed and studied for its intrinsic value rather than as ritual.

We must stop pretending that a perfect Indian culture, preserved in amber, is waiting to be resuscitated intact, with dhoti-clad denizens chattering away in Sanskrit and milking cows. That’s as much a chimera as Gandhiji’s vision of charkha-spinning villagers breeding silkworms. If we want Sanskrit appreciated, let’s get practical for a change. .

Source: The Hindu

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Fifth column: Stop Hindutva now
Why is the Prime Minister not publicly rebuking them for dragging Hindutva into his mandate in the ugliest way?

Written by Tavleen Singh | Posted: December 14, 2014 1:33 am | Updated: December 14, 2014 1:39 am
Why is the Prime Minister allowing the RSS to steal his mandate? I ask this question wherever I go these days and frankly I have no answer.

When Leftist political pundits harangue me with charges that it was the RSS that helped Narendra Modi become prime minister, I tell them that they do not know what they are talking about. Leftists are usually allergic to dust, heat, poverty and the real India and so rarely travel during election campaigns. This made them miss the fact that last summer’s general election was not about Hindutva. Anywhere. It was about change and development. Without Modi, the BJP could not have won half the seats they did. Besides, if the RSS could help it win elections, what went wrong the last two times?

Yet there exists today the bizarre situation in which our strongest prime minister in decades is allowing Hindu fanatics in the Lok Sabha and Hindu fanatical organisations outside to blacken his image. The MPs who have been most offensive wear saffron robes signifying asceticism and renunciation. So what they are doing in Parliament instead of in some Himalayan cave is a valid question. But since they have found their way into the Lok Sabha, why is the Prime Minister not publicly rebuking them for dragging Hindutva into his mandate in the ugliest way? We barely recovered from that Sadhvi calling all Muslims ‘bastards’ when her brother in saffron pronounced that Nathuram Godse was a patriot. Both these MPs expressed regret when their remarks caused a public furore, but it is not possible to ever apologise for such things.

If we need proof that these fanatics have RSS approval, it is evident in the zeal with which the BJP’s ‘alma mater’ is trying to convert Muslims and Christians ‘back’ to Hinduism. The Sanatana Dharma does not permit proselytisation. But try telling that to those loonies rampaging about the derelict, desperately poor shanties of Uttar Pradesh trying to bring Muslims and Christians ‘home’.

Of course these fanatics harmed the people they are trying to reconvert, but much more than this is the harm they have done Modi and his government. Just as he was beginning to bask in the luminous glow of international approval and domestic election victories, he is now in danger of losing all his support. His votes did not come for Hindutva reasons. I say this with certainty. During the election campaign, wherever I went, I asked if Hindutva and the Ram temple were issues any more. And not even in the dusty halls of Banaras Hindu University did I meet anyone who believed these were issues in the 2014 election.

Everywhere I went, people said that they were drawn to Modi because of his talk of ‘vikas’ and ‘parivartan’. At his first rally in Uttar Pradesh I walked some distance with ordinary residents of Kanpur and when they saw BJP workers ride by angrily shouting ‘Jai Shri Ram’ from speeding motorcycles, they expressed strong disapproval. So why has the Prime Minister remained silent when the worst kind of Hinduism has been unleashed by the RSS and when the ‘love jihad’ proved that it would lose him votes in future?

For his government, the worst consequence is that the RSS has succeeded in changing the subject. So six months on, when we should have been talking about reforms in governance and the economy, we are talking about cow urine remedies and religious tensions. By now his ministers should have put before us a list of proposed reforms for sectors ranging from energy and the railways to policing and healthcare. That these are desperately needed is obvious from the horrible healthcare tragedies in Chhattisgarh and Punjab and from the recent rape in an Uber taxi.

Where economic reforms are concerned, there has so far been only talk. Not only has Modi’s government continued policies that brought the economy to its knees, it has not even rid us of laws (land acquisition, companies law) that have made doing business in India even more difficult than it already was. And if our roads, railways and ports continue to be as bad as they were in the 19th century, we can be certain that India will remain very poor for another 50 years.

It was the hope that Modi meant what he said when he promised ‘parivartan’ that won him a full mandate. For his own sake, he needs to remember this quickly or he will find that the RSS will take it away from him to revive its own fortunes. Incidentally, if it is so keen to play a bigger role in India’s future, why does it not take charge of doing some ‘Swachh Bharat’ activity in temples and holy cities like Varanasi and Hardwar? Why does it not take charge of cleaning our sacred rivers?

Follow Tavleen Singh on Twitter @ tavleen_singh

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English, ticklish

Jatin Gandhi
Illustration by Satwik Gade.             The Hindu

English is the passport to upward mobility in the modern, aspirational India, but many political leaders seem to be out of touch with this new reality. This disconnect has led to friction in the nation in transition.

During the anti-colonial movement, Mahatma Gandhi’s anti-English stance offered a means of fighting colonialism and the English. In the 1960s and the later decades, the resurgent rural elite stood at loggerheads with the urban elite as cities grew at the expense of the villages and development overlooked the vast countryside. The English-speaking elite became the villains of this lopsided development. The heavily Sanskritised version of Hindi that the Bharatiya Janata Party and its ideological parent, the Sangh, propagate offers a counter-elitism rather than an anti-elitism. It breeds exclusivist tendencies of a different hue found in the Jan Sangh’s slogan of “Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan.” The attempts to impose Sanskrit or Hindi each time a Bharatiya Janata Party-led government comes to power are not merely a coincidence.

“In the mid-1960s, an attempt to impose Hindi was made and Tamil Nadu went up in flames. We ought to have learnt our lessons,” cautions Mridula Mukherjee, Professor of Modern Indian History at the Jawaharlal Nehru University. “National integration in a democracy has to be a voluntary process. There should no attempt at coercion.”

Read full article: The Hindu


Hindi is still a thorn in Tamil Nadu's flesh

Sruthisagar Yamunan
 The 1965 anti-Hindi agitation.

When the Centre wanted government departments to use Hindi in social media, protests erupted immediately in the State. The then Chief Minister, Jayalalithaa, in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, said the decision was against the spirit of the Official Languages Act, 1963.

Perhaps, one of the major reasons the Congress was shunted out of power in the State in 1967 was imposition of Hindi. The State government brought in paramilitary forces and clamped down on the anti-Hindi agitators, and the party never again came to power.

Back in 1937, when the Madras Presidency government led by C. Rajagopalachari insisted on compulsory learning of Hindi in the State, the Dravidian movement, then in the form of the Justice Party, got a major campaign agenda. For three years till the policy was revoked in 1940, the agitations were sustained in almost every part of the Presidency, in the process making its leader, E.V. Ramasamy (Periyar), the tallest leader of the Dravidian movement.

In 1965, when the 15-year timeframe to make Hindi the only official language was about to expire, Tamil Nadu again led the agitations. By this time, with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) gaining ground, imposition of Hindi was part of the narrative of the Aryan-Dravidian divide — the northern Aryans attempting to invade the cultural space of the southern Dravidians. It took an assurance from the then Prime Minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri, that English would continue as the second official language as long as non-Hindi-speaking people wanted it, to quell the protests.


Writer A. Marx says politically, the Tamil language issue has ceased to be an electoral issue, though it continues to be an emotive issue.

In 1965, the DMK was the only face of the anti-Hindi agitations, giving it the full benefit of the anti-Congress mood. In 2014, all Tamil parties have a common policy on the language issue, giving no one a clear advantage.

Mr. Marx says the anti-Hindi mood is actually more vigorous in the North than in the South at the moment. “It is people speaking non-Hindi languages in the North who have come down heavily on the BJP this time,” he says.

While the Dravidian parties opposed Hindi, he says, they had a logical language policy nevertheless with the constant emphasis on learning English, ensuring that Tamils were not left behind in the development story.

Read full article: The Hindu


Blogger's Comment:

Hindi will never become official language in the five Southern States of India. We have our own distinct mother tongues, Telugu (A.P., Telangana), Tamil (Tamilnadu), Kannada (Karnataka) and Malayalam (Kerala) (first language), English (second language) mouth piece to the world. Hindi will have third language status as we have now, no further change in the status quo.

Our history, culture, literature are tied to our mother tongues and we are identified by it as Telugus/Andhras, Tamils, Kanarese and Malayalis. BJP Hindutva activists RSS, VHP. Bajrang Dal may campaign as much as they can for Hindi/Sanskrit and their efforts will be futile in the Sourthen India.


Saturday, December 13, 2014


Written by Utkarsh Anand | New Delhi | Posted: December 13, 2014 2:11 am | Updated: December 13, 2014 8:25 am   

Amid chaos in Parliament over alleged forced religious conversions in Agra, Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu on Thursday called for central and state anti-conversion laws.

What does the Constitution say on freedom of religion?

Articles 25-30 guarantee citizens freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion. They also guarantee freedom to manage religious affairs, monetarily contribute to promotion of any religion, and to set up and administer educational institutions.

Was there a law on conversion before Independence?

The British did not enact any law. But many princely states did. Examples: Raigarh State Conversion Act, 1936, Patna Freedom of Religion Act, 1942, Sarguja State Apostasy Act, 1945, Udaipur State Anti-Conversion Act, 1946. Specific laws against conversion to Christianity were enacted in Bikaner, Jodhpur, Kalahandi and Kota.

What happened after Independence?

In 1954, Parliament took up for consideration the Indian Conversion (Regulation and Registration) Bill. Six years later, another law, the Backward Communities (Religious Protection) Bill, 1960, was proposed to stop conversion. Both were dropped for want of support. However, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Arunachal Pradesh passed anti-conversion laws in 1967, 1968 and 1978 respectively. Later, similar laws were passed by the state assemblies of Chhattisgarh (2000), Tamil Nadu (2002), Gujarat (2003), Himachal Pradesh (2006), and Rajasthan (2008). The laws were intended to stop conversions by force or inducement, or fraudulently. Some of the laws made it mandatory to seek prior permission from local authorities before conversion.

What offences do forced conversions attract?

These laws made forced conversion a cognisable offence under sections 295 A and 298 of the Indian Penal Code, which pertain to malicious and deliberate intention to hurt the religious sentiments of others. They attract a prison term of up to three years and fine. The punishment, in some cases, is harsher if the offence is committed against a minor, a woman or an SC or ST person.

What legal challenge have these laws faced?

The first major case in which the Supreme Court ruled on the freedom of religion and on conversions related to petitions challenging the conversion laws of Orissa and MP in 1967-68. In 1977, a constitution bench headed by then Chief Justice of India A N Ray upheld the validity of the laws, saying freedom to propagate one’s religion, as stipulated under Article 25 (1), did not grant a fundamental right to convert another person. The bench ruled that a purposive conversion would impinge on the “freedom of conscience” guaranteed to all citizens.

What are the other significant judgments on conversion?

In the Sarla Mudgal case (1995), the Supreme Court held that conversion to Islam was not valid if done only in order to be able to practise polygamy. It was held to be an act of bigamy prohibited u/s 17 of Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, and punishable under Section 494 IPC. The second marriage would be void, the SC observed. This position was reaffirmed by the judgment in the Lilly Thomas case (2000), which clarified that prosecution for bigamy was not a violation of the freedom of religion under Article 25.

In the Vilayat Raj case (1983). the court said that if both parties were Hindu at the time of marriage, provisions of the Hindu Marriage Act can apply even after one of them or both converted to Islam.

In the Chandra Sekaran case (1963), the court had observed that a person does not cease to be a Hindu merely because he declares that he has no faith in his religion, or if he stops practising his religion.

When was the last attempt made at a central legislation?

In 1978, an All India Freedom of Religion Bill was introduced in Lok Sabha. However, it was never discussed, and was dropped after the government fell in July 1979.