Saturday, December 9, 2023

Karnataka anti-conversion bill: It’s time it becomes a norm with rest of India

(Abhinav Prakash, national vice-president of Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM), gets talking to celebrated lawyer J Sai Deepak on anti-conversion laws which is in news since Karnataka assembly cleared the bill this week. It typically has led to furore in the Left-dominated media and academia. J. Sai Deepak puts some convincing arguments in support of anti-conversion laws. The edited transcription of this dialogue has been done by Bhumika Arora). 

Abhinav Prakash: The anti-conversion laws are in news. They are said to be violation of religious freedom. They are said to be violation of individual liberty. That it’s destruction of secular India that you are imposing new number of laws in India. (That it’s nothing but Fascism). 

J. Sai Deepak: They have zero understanding of Holocaust. Zero understanding of Nazi history. Zero understanding of Fascism. But they just keep using it whenever they want. I had a gentleman call the RSS as our SS because they apparently took a drill and he said this is our SS. There is no depth in their argument. 

The point is simple: Is the right to convert a fundamental right under Article 25 (1)? The answer is a very clear No. There is a judgment on the point which continues to hold the field: Reverend Stanislaus vs State of Madhya Pradesh of the Supreme Court where the anti-conversion legislations of Orissa and Madhya Pradesh were actually challenged by a Christian missionary. The Supreme Court said when you choose to treat the right to convert as part of a fundamental part to practice your religion, then you create law and order issues. Therefore a limitation of the right to convert is a legitimate and reasonable restriction of your right to practice. The Supreme Court, I wish, had gone a step further saying that those religions which have conversion as the cornerstone, when they enter the territory of India, they must give up the corner because you’re affecting our right—and therefore your right—to practice your religion in this country. It is contingent on you, giving up the right to convert under any circumstances. Otherwise it’s a lopsided game. If your right to convert becomes a part of fundamental rights for certain religions, it affects those religions which don’t have that particular concept. So there ought to be some legislation that specifically puts limitation on any form of fraudulent and coerced conversion. 

Further, this is not a blanket ban on conversion. It’s a ban on pushing someone to take an uninformed decision; or pushing someone to take a decision which is not out of their free will. It’s a fundamental right. I challenge anyone to prove me wrong here that allows you to say that the right to convert is untrammelled; that the right to convert has no restraints. 

Therefore comparison with the Nuremberg Laws is stupid. Let’s say minorities in this particular country wear a green crescent off the shoulder and walk around. Does it mean they insult the jews who had to wear, you know, Star of David and whose shops they vandalized? Anyone who does this is indulging in tacit anti-Semitism because you are appropriating the history of anti-Semitism to a community which has good relations with that community. Please don’t do it. 

The comparison to Nuremberg Laws is a typical hyperbole that the Left resorts to, at least the Indian Left resorts to, because they never wish to deal with the specifics of certain questions. There strategy is always pitched at the most extreme level so there is no possibility of a nuanced discussion. Anybody who discusses nuance becomes boring and whoever comes out with sensationalism, is the one who has the loudest voice in the room. So let me reply equally loudly: If this translates to violation of constitutional principles you are perhaps subscribing to the Constitution of Pakistan, and not India. 

Abhinav Prakash: Many on the Left have been arguing that this law is actually anti-Hindu women. It treats Hindu women as personal property. It treats Hindu women as immature people who are unable to make their own decisions. 

J. Sai Deepak: They should actually take this argument to the Christian women of Kerala and to the Malabar Christian Society of Kerala because then they will respond to them in kind. So assume it for a moment: If a Catholic Syrian or a Roman Catholic girl, or any other woman from the Christian community of Kerala were to migrate to Uttar Pradesh; and subjected to the same treatment that a Hindu woman is subjected to; let’s call it grooming and not Love Jihad for the latter just trivializes the issue. I say so because it’s a kind of sexual grooming which ultimately translates to religious conversion. Would they still call it something which is anti-Hindu? NO. 

The point is very simple: If there is a consensual conversion to a particular religion, knowing fully well, what the consequences are, that ultimately you are going to be pushed to conversion, that’s your party, I am sorry to say, your funeral. There’s nothing that anybody can do about it. 

But here, at the. outset, the approach is rife with a lot of treachery. There is a lot of lies and you’re trying to mislead the person by coming out with a different name and then setting a different expectation. Suddenly the tables are turned.

That’s where the State has a right to step into the picture because this not just an attack against an individual, it’s clearly a target with respect to certain community. When you make this particular issue simply a question of individual rights, then you forget that individuals make up the community. Ultimately what you are doing is changing ones and twos and threes and fours and the community looks back and asks itself what has happened to the entire community? 

The second point that needs to be responded is ifs you think the legislation is treating women as chattel or property. NO. The legislation prevents women from becoming chattel or properties. When they convert, we have to ask them what’s this framework? And what is the treatment of women within this particular framework? 

Abhinav Prakash: India being a secular State, you’re basically creating a field which is not a level-playing field between the indigenous religions and the foreign ones…

J. Sai Deepak: The concept of secularism as understood in Europe is Christian secularism and the concept of secularism as understood today in India without reference to constitutional history is a form of militant anti-Hindu secularism. It’s not even ir-religious secularism. We have failed to indigenize secularism within the context of our understanding. Every other country that uses the word secular does so within the framework of its own civilizational background. More Indians must read about it and when they do. they would completely understand what kind of a sham is being imposed in the name of secularism.

(Karnataka’s ‘anti-conversion bill’ is similar to several recent laws brought by the BJP in states like Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. However, even before the BJP governments ushered in the much-criticised enactments, states like Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha and Uttarakhand had laws restricting religious conversion.)

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