Vantage point

Wednesday, June 18, 2003


The whole conversion issue is raising a lot of dust in India. People don't like some of the tactics adopted by some unscrupulous evangelists to get people to convert. It is almost like they "buy" their faith or "trick" them into believing.

Personally, being a libertarian, I would say, let them. If tomorrow a person is desparate enough to sell his kidney, he should have the right to do so. It is his kidney after all. Again, if he wants to "sell" his faith, he should be allowed to. I have been holding this viewpoint in any debates I have had with anti-conversionists. However like most libertarian viewpoints, this one too is very idealistic and not easy to implement especially in a country like India. So for the sake of thinking of a more practical solution, one accepts the points of these anti-conversionists. OK, some evangelists do use unscrupulous methods to proselytise. And something needs to be done to stop this.

However the law Jayalalitha passed in Tamilnadu is not quite the answer. This law requires every conversion to first be ratified by the state government. if you wish to convert, you have to tell this to the government. The government will then "investigate" each case and allow conversion only if it is satisfied that no malpractice was involved.

This is so not the solution. Firstly, the governments are all short staffed. there is a lot of load on bureaucrats. Adding this means giving them one more avenue to earn bribes. "Gimme 10 grand and I'll ratify your conversion in a day", they'll mumble to you. And you have one more avenue for corruption. There is another bigger reason.

I oppose the Tamilnadu conversion bill mainly because it gives the state government the regulatory rights. Now in a country where religion is a part of politics, such power can easily be misused by the government since there is a clear cut case for conflict of interests. So tomorrow the state government may just refuse to ratify even the most transparent voluntary conversion to earn a political borwnie point. It will become a nice tool for enforcing Hindu hegemony.

A solution I had this morning may be termed as...quasi-libertarian, if you will. All religions in India should come together and set up a regulatory body. This body should have representatives from every religion, and maybe some more scholars from the social and legal domain. They will get together and decide on some common norms to define what is fair and what is unfair. This regulatory body should keep an eye on conversions. It should examine if there were any irregularities in the conversion process.

Every conversion should be deemed as 'revocable' if any irregularities are found at a later date.

Of course I realise there can be problems in this too. I just thought of it in the morning and so posted on it. Let us discuss it, shall we? Is such a regulatory body, set up without government interference a viable idea? What are the hurdles? The lack of a well defined Hindu religious leadership for one....and the chances of factionalism within such a body....there could be a few more. But at the moment it seems to me the most viable and acceptable alternative, without infringing on any personal rights and freedoms.