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Religion Is A Fundamental Right

13/12/2014 5:46 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:24 AM IST
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This picture neatly captures the appropriation of public space and walls by permanently painted images one can find everywhere in Chennai. Centre is a wonderfully inclusive trio of religious themes: Jesus, a Muslim message and Hindu Ganesh. What makes the images remarkable, if not uncommon, is that although beautiful and obviously made with a lot of effort, this is just a random, unremarkable, non-prominent section of road near my home. No reason to put it up, someone just felt compelled. Also caught are two examples of the ubiquitous messages painted, usually in blue or indigo; to the left is a typical, ineffective public service scrawl, "Keep Anna Nager Clean & Tidy" and to the right is the amazingly prolific advertising message for "A to Z Magic Show". These and their competitor "P James Magic Show" are simply everywhere, on gates, walls, buildings, street corners, and pillars. There is also the mass of less permanent advertising signs and posters, especially the poster bills of the latest movies that run like comic strips along many streets.

India is a multi-religion multi-ethnic country and its strength lies in Unity in Diversity.

When India became independent, Pakistan chose to be a theocratic state and we chose to be a secular state. Secularism is enshrined in our Constitution.

What does Secularism mean? To us, it means "Sarv Dharm Sam Bhav" -- equal respect to all religions, but the state has no religion. It doesn't mean irreligion, which is how the Communists might interpret it.

Every Indian has a fundamental right to adopt, practice and preach his religious belief but no one has the right to impose his religious belief on others either by inducement or force. In the 50s, during the Congress regime of Pt. Ravi Shankar Shukla as CM of the Central Provinces, a Committee was constituted to look into the conversion of tribals, particularly in Jashpur and Rajgarh.

On the basis of the recommendation of the committee, an Anti-Conversion Law was enacted, which is still there in the State of Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh. This law doesn't infringe on the fundamental right of a citizen to choose and convert to a religion of his choice but authorises the administration to ensure that the conversion is not through any inducement or by force.

Procedure has been laid down in the Act and the sub-divisional magistrate of that area has been empowered to see that the conversion is voluntary and not through either inducement or by force. In my 10 years as chief minister in Madhya Pradesh, there was no complaint whatsoever on this issue.

The RSS calls reverse conversion as Ghar Wapsi. Have the VHP and Bajrang Dal activists followed the due provisions of anti-conversion law or have they violated the law? Would the chief minister of Chattisgarh, where the so-called Ghar Wapsi has taken place, please come forward and say that he has acted as per the law of land?

Can he say that he has acted as per the provisions of the Constitution of India, which he has taken Oath to protect?

I am sure he will not respond.

The RSS/BJP combine has successfully been able to give a wrong interpretation to secularism. To them, secularism means Muslim appeasement and unfortunately, through a sustained campaign on social media, they have been able to convince younger netizens that secularism means muslim appeasement.

This is the failure of the secular parties. Although they constituted the majority, they were unable to convey the actual meaning of secularism to the young netizens of India. Since 1925 when RSS was formed, they have single-mindedly followed the strategy of Muslim bashing and poisoned minds through a sustained campaign of distorting history and a disinformation campaign about Muslims and Islam.

I don't deny that there may have been cases of conversion through inducement or by force. But is conversion an issue on which the BJP has won the mandate? To correct one wrong, another wrong should be committed?

BJP has won the election on the issue of development. Is conversion or reconversion necessary to achieve the development goals set by the BJP?

To me personally, an anti-conversion law, which prohibits conversion through inducement or force is acceptable if it is done after exhaustive discussions with all political parties and religious groups.

BJP/RSS is working with a definite game plan to polarize the body politic of this country. RSS has more than 150 organisations, all of which work under the directions of the RSS chief and are working towards the policy of divide and rule.

Conversion through inducement of poor Muslim families is definitely infringement of the fundamental right and all those who are responsible must be severely punished. I am convinced that all that is happening is a part of the diabolical plan of the BJP and with the active connivance of the Prime Minister.

A senior BJP functionary has a different explanation, however. According to him, all this is being done by a VHP leader who is bitterly opposed to Modi. Is it possible? Only God above or the RSS Chief down below can tell!

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