Not Anti-Conversion Law But Anti-Superstation Law Required
Cleofato Almeida Coutinho
Even after six decades of liberation, Goa’s projection as Rome of the East or Kashi of the west coast of India continues. That was started by the Vishva Hindu Parishad about twenty years ago. Basically it was divisive element injected into our society. This year, former chief of RSS in Goa vitiated the atmosphere by the controversy of Goencho Saib and Parshuram. Looks like we are going back in times. In Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, the ruling party has developed a new hate culture called the bulldozer method of teaching ‘them’ a lesson .As the roadmap for 2024 is being prepared, how can Goa be left behind. Goa is a peace loving state where all communities live in harmony. But who is bothered about the harmony in the state, if hate campaign helps win elections and the political dharma is only about winning of elections.
After winning a difficult election, the Goa Chief Minister came with a budget proposal to build temples destroyed by the Portuguese without even identifying a single temple. A secular state has to restore heritage monuments and all institutions of culture not only temples. The idea of restoring temples is only to create an atmosphere of hate. Now he tells us that a new law prohibiting conversions shall be brought before the house. Has there been a single case of conversion by force or fraud reported to the police or state administration for the governemt to bring in an anti conversion law?.why are we are in a continuous mode of disharmony visavis our communities?
The debate on conversions has been started with wrong questions . Are conversions necessary? Can Charity not be performed without resorting to conversions? Religious conversion is a matter of individual choice. What is important is whether a citizen is allowed freedom of conscience as guaranteed by the constitution as a fundamental right.The minorities particularly catholics had earned a right to propagate their religion. There is no denying that missionary work is coupled with propagation of religion. Facilitating conversion in itself may not be wrong. What cannot be tolerated is force and fraud in conversions. Existing legal mechanism has enough strength to deal fraudulent and forceful conversions.
The issue of religious conversions was widely discussed in the constituent assembly for several days. Mass conversion in colonial times was the background of the debate. The evangelizing programs of the missionaries was certainly facilitated by colonial powers who were never secular. But that was about a century back. Some constitution framers were for restriction on conversions. In fact Sardar Patel and K.M. Munshi brought amendments for prohibiting conversions by force, fraud and undue influence. Munshi in fact proposed conversions of all minors. Some claimed conversions as an important facet of one’s conscience.T.T.Krishnamachari who did hid entire education in Christian institutions played a stellar role in convincing the assembly of not imposing restrictions on conversions.
The word “propagate” found in freedon of religion had been hotly debated. K.M.Munshi who later joind the Jan Sangh and presided over the first Vshwa Hindu Parishad meet had a diificult job steering freedom of religion in the current form.He said “ I know it was on this word that the Indian Christian community laid greatest emphasis .. not because they wanted to convert people aggressively but because the word ‘propagate was a fundamental part of their tenet”. Krishnamachari was more forceful in permitting propagation” if he felt that it is a thing that he has to do and that is the thing he has been born and that is his duty towards his god and his community”
In the concluding address Sardar Patel was very conciliatory ”…we need not introduce any heat into the controversy to find a solution”. He accepted that it was illegal under existing law to forcibly convert people. Even K.M. Munshi claimed the word propagation brought in “an atmosphere of harmony and confidence in the majority community” The intellectual giants of those times believed in debate, compromise and harmony. They settled for citizens’s right to voluntarily change his religion and that right deserved protection even while dealing with mass conversions. The hard-won confidence of the minorities is being sacrificed by the state governments through the politics of us and them.
There is no religious demography justifying an anti-conversion law in Goa..All we have in Goa is a Domnic D Souza and his wife Joan of five pillars church, Siolim, who allegedly convert poor people using magic. They used miracle oil for healing. In the country and in our state there are enough number of gullible people who fall prey to such black magic and magic remedies. They have to dealt under existing laws like the Magic Remedies Act invoked in this case.
Miraculous powers in healing is nothing new. We thrive in superstition and superstitious beliefs. Godmen and ghadis are all over the countryside.That has become a social menace. The country has not come out with a comprehensive law dealing with the superstition and black magic. Spearheaded by Narendra Dabhokar the state of Maharashtra brought in an anti –superstition & anti black magic law.In an era of science and when the constitution exhorts inculcation of scientific temper we at time when the fringe is becoming the mainstream and mythology is replacing history and anti rational discourse is in full force. The Supreme court has acknowledged“Superstition plays a very important role in the Indian society. It is not restricted to any particular religion or a particular section of society including the haves and the have-nots.”we require laws against all superstitions and superstitious practices.
Any anti conversion law in this small state shall only tarnish its reputation as a liberal place. It will only poison the state mindset. Goa deserves something better