Two incidents took place in the months of May (21-22) and October (30) this year, almost like a mirror image. They revolved around the infamous ghar wapsi campaign of Hindutva outfits, and targeted the Christian community in Madhya Pradesh and Nagpur, Maharashtra — both BJP ruled states. Both involved the taking away of children who were travelling to reach a Bible Reading camp. The groups were later detained by the police and charges of “attempted conversion” were leveled against the guides accompanying them, who continued to insist that they had parental consent and that the children already came from Christian families, so conversion was out of the question. The children were illegally detained by the Hindu Jagran Manch in the second case, with only a court order releasing them back to their families. Moreover, in the first case, the authorities argued that proper procedures for converting the children had not been conducted so the children were still Hindu in the eyes of the law. Police Superintendent Krishnaveni Desavatu explained, “For changing to another religion, one needs to submit a written application to the district collector and only after the stipulated process, a person can change religious identity, which didn’t happen in the case of any of the parents claiming to be Christians…this is why, the children and their parents will be officially treated as Hindu tribals and not Christians.” The children, who returned in the same clothes that they were detained in, and their parents who claim to be in fear of their lives: “All these days I was moving around dazed looking for my children. Now that we have got their custody, we are too scared to return,” said one, are understandably distressed. Former President of the All India Catholic Union, Dr. John Dayal, provides the other side of the story, “The traumatization of these tribal and Dalit children from the villages of western Madhya Pradesh is symptomatic of the paranoia and targeted hate that is currently sweeping across north India…apart from rampant impunity and turning a blind eye to [Hindu nationalist] violence, the law and order institutions have been heavily infiltrated and radicalized under almost 15 years of Bharatiya Janata Party rule in Madhya Pradesh.”
It is obvious that these incidents are founded on two alternative systems of conversion- from Hinduism to Christianity (as the HJM and police claimed), and from Christianity to Hinduism (as the accused Christian guides claimed). It is possible that the summer camp could have acted as a disguise for proselytization and conversion, and also that it was a Bible study camp for Christian children going there with parental consent. Which version should the layperson trust? Dismissing it as yet another example of Hindu radicalism in action, or Christian evangelism at work, is not enough. The question we should ask can instead be— what is the source of the threat experienced by both sides?
The threat is not that of the legal legitimacy of the right to choose religion, or to convert. This is also evident from the Madhya Pradesh High Court reacting to a habeus corpus petition filed about handing the children over to their parents. It is not that of political legitimacy either, as has been assured by PM Modi who promised that his government “will ensure that there is complete freedom of faith and that everyone has the undeniable right to retain or adopt the religion of his or her choice without coercion or undue influence.” This crisis has emerged among fears of homogenization in an increasingly fascist state. Asserting the domination of the ruling power-religious, political, and economic, has been interpreted by the fringe elements (increasingly moving towards the centre) as a validation for doing anything in the name of a ‘Hindu Rashtra’, often violent, divisive and deadly. If the party desiring to proclaim its dominance is already ‘representing’ the majority community, why is it afraid? Simply because this is not merely a game of numbers; because all of roughly 80% people do not condone its stance, and because it views its dictatorial tendencies as a divine right. On the other hand, Christians have been long accused of converting tribals, Dalits and other minorities through the lure of education, economic support, and relative equality. But, isn’t this process the right of the Indian citizen— the right to choose? Then the inverse is also true — ghar wapsi can also be defended as the right of people to convert to Hinduism. But what is completely unconstitutional about the whole business is that this is happening through coercion; choice is being removed from the equation.
This is violence, pure and simple. We have the right to return to any ghar of our choice. The state has to accept responsibility for guaranteeing this right based on consent. The fact that it is making children a casualty, condemns it more. Let’s not destroy our democratic fabric by condoning such aggressive injustice even further.
-Contributed by Tript
Picture Credits: scoopwhoop.com