The Golden Jubilee of the conversion to Buddhism of Dr. Ambedkar and his followers, is a call to usher in a new era in religious tolerance, harmony and mutual respect in our beloved motherland. The significance and impact of this `Conversion` in Indian society, has to be assessed in a deep and comprehensive manner. We call for a new climate of equal rights, religious freedom and harmony based on mutual respect for one another as human beings.
Dr. Ambedkar, the `Architect of the Indian Constitution`, had enshrined in Article XXV the freedom to freely profess, practise and propagate religion. On the 50th anniversary of his Conversion to Buddhism we are indebted to his Vision to ensure the Freedom of Religious choice of the future generations of India.
As early as in 1935 at Nasik district, Maharashtra, Dr.Babasaheb Ambedkar had declared his firm resolve to change his religion. He had declared that he was born as a Hindu but will not die as Hindu. In 1956, on the occasion of his public conversion to Buddhism, he declared:the iconic Dalit leader said: `By discarding my ancient religion which stood for inequality and oppression, today I am reborn.`
In the context of the various developments and especially in the light of anti-conversion laws being framed or amended in eight states of Secular India.
At this time, there is a need for religious and political leaders in India to work together to find ways of addressing disputes through dialogue and through non-violent, non-legislative and non-discriminatory ways for every citizen in our country.
Five states in India have already enacted legislation which restricts or impairs the right of citizens to freely convert from one religion to another. As the Rajasthan Government introduces its own law, we believe that we must raise our voice. We consider that these laws seriously infringe and undermine religious freedom, and violate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Constitution of our nation.
One of the most basic rights is the freedom to adopt, change, practise, teach and observe the teaching of a religion. This is set out in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
Article XVIII of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights maintains :
" Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion ; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance. "
The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) defines religious conversion as a human right: "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, ...." (Article 18).
Based on the declaration the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) drafted the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, (ICCPR) a legally binding treaty. It states that "Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, ..." (Article 18.1). "No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice." (Article 18.2).
Dr. Sajan George, National President, Global Council of Indian Christians reflects on Conversion to Christianity ;
The word / concept "conversion" conjures up a whole variety of meanings. However, if you look at it purely from a religious perspective, it definitely means "a changed lifestyle based on religious conviction".
"True conversion to a Faith of one`s choice is a free act of the will of an individual who for reasons known to him and emotions dear to him makes a choice of a set of beliefs and practices and builds his life on them. Just as a person is free to choose a political ideology, economic system, career, etc., he is also at liberty to choose a set of religious beliefs or to forfeit them.
For Christians, conversion is not only that dramatic action of submission to a minister of the Church pouring water on one`s head or immersion in water, but a commitment by the individual to accept the scriptural assessment of one as a sinner in need of a Saviour, and the act of faith in accepting Christ as one`s personal spiritual saviour or deity. IT is manifested by a revelation of God`s presence in the person`s life, which may either be instantaneous or gradual. Therefore, anyone who casts aspersions saying that a person has been bought, bribed, allured, forced, to convert is completely misled, because where the Christian faith is concerned, that is NOT conversion at all.
Conversion involves a deep faith and transforming experience. The attempts of various Governments to promulgate draconian laws to prevent conversion is out of tune with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and goes against the Letter and Spirit of the Indian Constitution.
For anything that is forced, that procured by an allurement or a bribe, the Indian Penal Code (IPC) has sufficient provisions to address."