Religious conversion has unhappy consequences
The Supreme Court?s decision to endorse the Odisha High Court?s judgement against Dara Singh, who has been held guilty of being involved with the murder of Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons in January 1999, sentencing him to life imprisonment, brings a ghastly incident that shocked India to a closure. Staines and his two young sons died when the station wagon in which they were sleeping was set on fire by a mob; it was an unconscionable misdeed. Dara Singh and his associate, Mahendra Hembram, richly deserve the punishment that has been meted out to them for their role in that crime. However, the Supreme Court?s lengthy verdict is equally, if not more, important for another reason: It provides a context to the crime that was committed in a remote tribal village of Odisha that January night more than a decade ago. As Friday?s judgement puts it, ?The intention was to teach a lesson to Graham Staines about his religious activities, namely, converting poor tribals to Christianity.? The judgement is a scathing comment on preachers and pastors engaged in ?harvesting souls? through religious conversion, targeting innocent tribals whose poverty and illiteracy makes them vulnerable to the blandishments of crafty missionaries. This is most pronounced in States like Odisha, which was among the first to adopt an anti-conversion law to counter aggressive proselytising activities of missionaries, which have a significant tribal population, leading to social strife and disharmony. Staines was one such missionary whose activities were not restricted to tending to leprosy patients, noble as that vocation may have been, but extended to converting tribal youth to Christianity. This caused resentment among those tribals who felt the missionary was encouraging their fellow tribesmen to abandon their indigenous faith and beliefs. ?It is undisputed that there is no justification for interfering in someone?s belief by way of ?use of force?, provocation, conversion, incitement or upon a flawed premise that one religion is better than the other,? Justice P Sathasivam and Justice BS Chauhan have observed, adding, ?In a country like ours where discrimination on the ground of caste or religion is a taboo, taking lives of persons belonging to another caste or religion is bound to have a dangerous and reactive effect on the society at large … It strikes at the very root of the orderly society which the founding fathers of our Constitution dreamt of.?
Tragically, the right to freedom of religion, as guaranteed by the Constitution, is interpreted by Christian missionaries and our deracinated Left-liberal commentariat as well as pseudo-secular politicians as the right to convert, more often than not through deceit, fraud and allurement. That this is done by positing one faith as being superior to another is overlooked and those standing up to religious conversion are crudely admonished. It is a reflection of this sad reality that no tears were shed over the brutal slaying of Swami Lakshmanananda who had dedicated his life to tribal welfare and stood up to missionaries looking for souls to harvest at a discounted rate. It is also a telling comment that few have bothered to look at the reasons that led to a virtual tribal uprising in Kandhamal district of Odisha against missionaries and their henchmen in 2008. This is not the first time the courts have wisely warned against the consequences of conversion. But this wisdom has been treated with scorn by missionaries and their patrons. The consequences of this folly are there for all to see.