The All India Christian Council (AICC) celebrated “Dhammadiksha”, the day on which Dr. B.R. Ambedkar freely chose a new religion on October 14, 1956 in Nagpur, Maharashtra. The author of India’s Constitution showed that conversion is not a crime, but fifty-two years later voices inside India want a “moratorium on conversions.” The AICC is united in support of the freedom of religion and the freedom of conscience which includes conversion. The AICC President, Dr. Joseph D’souza writes.
Dr. B.R. Ambedkar commented in a speech, “Mukti kon pathe?” (Which path to liberation?), published on June 20, 1936, “To remain in a religion because it is ancestral is only suited to a fool. No thinking man can take such a policy. Remaining in a situation in which one finds oneself fits an animal; it cannot satisfy a human being.” Under Ambedkar’s leadership, millions of people embraced Buddhism.
Seven states have passed “Freedom of Religion Acts” and five are enforcing it, but, today, there has not been one conviction for conversion by allurement, fraud, or force. Even if wrongful conversions do exist in India, major religious leaders – especially from Christianity – have condemned them and believe this type of conversion is not legitimate.
Legitimate, legal conversions are now on the table for debate. On Oct. 8, 2008, Roman Catholic leaders in New Delhi agreed to meet with the senior BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) leader, Mr. L.K. Advani, along with a delegation. Mediated by Swami Chidanand Saraswati of Rishikesh, Uttarakhand, a joint press statement discussing conversions was issued after the two hour dialogue.
John Dayal, AICC Secretary General and member of the National Integration Council, said, “The AICC welcomes true dialogue. It is the cornerstone of our everyday life and Christian witness. But a dialogue presupposes free will, a peaceful platform, a structured agenda, a common goal for peace through mutual respect, and acknowledgement of each other as equals. Religious leaders should dialogue with other religious leaders in bilateral and multilateral fora. Parliament provides the forum for political dialogue. Civil society is the best platform for a larger, continuing dialogue and debate. These are fora we trust.”
Dr. Joseph D’souza, AICC President, said, “Dialogues don’t identify the killers, arsonists, and rapists of Christians in India. Calls for moratoria on conversion don’t put the onus of the violence where it belongs – on government structures which are guilty of inaction in saving victims, and, in many cases, of supporting the violence against Christians. Dialogues will not save Hindu fundamentalist organisations from facing justice.”
India has signed the United National Universal Declaration of Human Rights which says, in Article 18, people must remain free to choose their own religion. India’s Constitution, in Article 25, guarantees the right to propagate religion, which will naturally lead to conversions.
D’Souza said, “As long as laws of the land are respected and other faiths are not denigrated, each person has the right to convert. And other Indians have the right to tell fellow citizens about different choices in religion so they have the knowledge and options to convert. We believe each Indian citizen must be allowed to shop in the marketplace of religions and choose a faith. We appeal to Indians of all religions to protect this freedom. Conversion is the sign of a healthy democracy. Conversion is the ultimate symbol of freedom of conscience.”
The All India Christian Council (www.christiancouncil.in), birthed in 1998, exists to protect and serve the Christian community, minorities, and the oppressed castes. The AICC is a coalition of thousands of Indian denominations, organizations, and lay leaders.