Respected Mr Justice MR Shah,
I was shocked by the comments you made while hearing the plea of Advocate Ashwini Upadhyay who sought action by the Central and state governments against those who forcibly convert people, especially those belonging to the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes.
I know you just asked the Central government to file an affidavit on what it has done or what it is planning to do to control forced conversion. However, your comments, as reported in the media, gave the impression, rightly or wrongly, that you are really agitated by the fraudulent conversions happening in the country.
Advocate Upadhyay is associated with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and forced conversion has been his pet theme. If you go through the records you will find that he had once filed a similar kind of appeal in the Supreme Court. It was heard by Mr Justice Rohinton Nariman, who later retired from the court.
Justice Nariman was so perturbed by the frivolousness of Advocate Upadhyay’s petition that he asked him to either withdraw it or face dismissal with cost. To save his face, he withdrew the petition. It is the same old wine in new bottle that he presented before you and, alas, you took immediate cognisance of it.
Advocate Upadhyay is just a cog in the wheel of the false narrative that has been made about Christians that they are a community to be afraid of, as they indulge in conversion through allurements and other dubious methods. This helps the vested interests to harass Christians who, I can say, are one of the most peaceful communities in the country who have been part and parcel of Indian society for millennia. So far, more than 500 cases of harassment of Christians have been reported from various parts of the country this year.
But for a few Syrian Christians in Kerala, who allegedly trace their ancestry to St. Thomas, who was a disciple of Jesus Christ, the Christian community in India is poor as a majority of them belong to the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes. Their services to the country, be it in education or healthcare, are unparalleled.
You live in Delhi where the first hospital was set up by the Christians. It is St. Stephen’s Hospital. Of course, it pales into insignificance when you compare it with the state-of-the-art hospital Mata Amritanandamayi built in one go in Faridabad in Haryana over a 100-acre plot of land. It is not India’s but Asia’s largest hospital. I am happy that such a hospital has come up.
Christian hospitals and nursing centres, be it in Baramulla in Jammu and Kashmir, or the hinterlands in Arunachal Pradesh in the Northeast are the ones who provide medical care to the people at the grassroots. There was a time when education was kept confined to some privileged sections of people who propagated the myth that they were heaven born. At that time, it was the Christians who went to the neglected areas and educated the people.
Today you will find the beneficiaries of education in every walk of life, including the judiciary. Yet, have you ever thought of how Christians have been treated? They are always subjected to violence by the state.
Caste is an undeniable reality that cannot be taken lightly. I remember what a hullabaloo some sections of public opinion created when the then President, the late KR Narayanan, gently mentioned in a letter to the then Chief Justice of India whether something could be done about giving some representation to the SCs and the STs in the upper echelons of the judiciary.
The Supreme Court, which recently upheld 10 percent reservation for the upper castes on economic basis, while excluding the SCs and STs who are the poorest in India, remains an impenetrable fortress thanks to the collegium system of appointment. Let me return to the violence on Christians.
The benefits of reservation are denied totally to the Dalits among the Christians. If a person who does scavenging to make a living accepts Jesus as his saviour, he will lose reservation. How does this square with the principles of equality enshrined in the Constitution? If a fellow Christian, who is relatively well off, helps the man, it will be treated as allurement. This is institutional violence against Christians.
There is a special law to deal with atrocities against Dalits. This law was amended and strengthened several times but this is not applicable to the Scheduled Caste Christians. This means that there is no protection even from atrocities against Dalits, just because they claim to be Christians. This is not my figment of imagination.
Yet, the pity is that persons like Advocate Upadhyay are heard when they say that Christians have been forcibly converting people. Today, a political party which claims to espouse Hindutva, different from Hinduism, rules the country. The President, the Vice-President and the governors are all nominees of the party.
But for a few states like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Telangana, Odisha and Jharkhand, it is the BJP which rules most states. On the subject of conversion, many parties like the Aam Aadmi Party are with the BJP. In fact, I am also against forced conversion. The Constitution gives one the right to change one’s faith.
A minister belonging to a Dalit community in Delhi lost his ministership when he took part in mass conversion of Dalits to Buddhism. The single largest conversion ceremony that happened in India was when Dr BR Ambedkar embraced Buddhism at a ceremony in Nagpur. Of course, I did not mention the conversion of Emperor Ashoka. If the egalitarian ideas of Buddhism attract a section of the people, why should anyone bother about it?
As you know, India has become the chair of the Group of 20 nations. It will hold the post for one year. The G-20 Summit where Mr Narendra Modi took part happened in Indonesia which held the chairmanship for one year. There was a religious conference to coincide with the Summit. Do you know who represented Hinduism there?
It was Mr Ram Madhav, who is a leader of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Singh (RSS). It is a militia, not a religious organisation. How could it represent nearly 80 percent of the population who, despite all the propaganda, is Hindu? Are you not perturbed by the hijacking of Sanatana Dharma by a militant outfit?
In a country where the majority community is Hindu and Christians constitute just 2 percent with no political or administrative influence at all, how can they forcibly convert anyone? Advocate Upadhyay is not the first person to make allegations of forced conversion. Eleven states have passed laws to prohibit forced conversion.
A day or two after you ordered the Centre to file an affidavit on forced conversion, the Cabinet in Uttarakhand decided to strengthen the law making the punishment for conversion harsher. Madhya Pradesh was the first to enact the law even when Jawaharlal Nehru was the Prime Minister.
In other words, the law has been in force in many parts of the country for many decades. Now, let me ask your Lordship, has there been a single case of conviction of a Christian for forcible conversion anywhere in India? Forcible conversion is impossible, especially to Christianity. Conversion happens only when there is a transformation.
Do you know which were the two states where the maximum conversions occurred? They were Travancore and Cochin in Kerala and Kashmir in the North? Do you know the reason for the same?
Untouchability and Unseeability were practiced so much in Kerala that even Swami Vivekananda was prevented from entering the Kodungallur temple. The temple authorities thought that he was a Dalit, maybe because of his complexion, and he refused to disclose his caste identity. He considered the question an affront to his dignity. That is why he called Kerala “a lunatic asylum”.
It was the practice of casteism that forced a majority of the people in the Kashmir Valley to opt for Islam. It is a wrong claim that the conversion happened forcibly.
You seemed to agree with Advocate Upadhyay’s claim that forcible conversion would subvert the communal equilibrium in the country. I do not know how Christians pose a threat to the security of the nation. Hindus have 33 crore gods and goddesses, i.e., for every four Indian there is a god. Will it matter to anyone if Jesus is considered one among the 33 crore and 1 gods and goddesses?
Despite the diversity of the Hindu pantheon of gods, Hindus also believe in the concept of one God. That is what Christians also believe in. How does it matter whether the God Christians pray to is known as Eshwaran by the South Indian Hindus and Bhagwan by the North Indian Hindus?
The Prime Minister is never tired of mentioning the concept of Vasudaiva Kudumbakam, enunciated by the Hindus, centuries before the Islamic Brotherhood came into being. Given these facts, why should Upadhyay worry about conversion?
I am a Christian but I have many Hindu characteristics embedded in me like my fondness for recitations of Sanskrit shlokas, not that I understand them. Similarly, there are many Hindus who consider Jesus as a Maryada Purushothaman, if not a saviour. In fact, one of the failures of the Indian Church is that it tried to propagate Churchianity which is different from Christianity.
Had it concentrated on spreading the message of Jesus that Upadhyay, you, me and everyone else are all brothers or sisters in Christ, there would have been more adherents of the faith than the 2 percent. For Christians, numbers do not matter. When you and I stand before God for the ultimate test, He will judge you and me by how well we lived our lives and not by how many people were added to the subscribing members of the church. That is why we believe that God has only children, not grandchildren or nephews and nieces.
You as a judge came to my notice when you as senior judge and Mr Justice Bela M. Trivedi as fellow judge met on a Saturday and heard the urgent petition against the release of former Delhi University teacher GN Saibaba by an order of the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court. Justice is said to be blind.
That is, perhaps, why considerations like the fact that he had already spent eight years in jail and is wheelchair-bound and cannot live without physical support did not weigh with you. Yes, a judge should not be circumscribed by petty personal considerations. In contrast, we had seen how the Supreme Court intervened to save a TV channel owner from going to jail.
In a country where millions of cases are pending and thousands of undertrials are languishing in jail for reasons that the courts are overburdened with work, it is sad that you found time to entertain a plea rejected outright by a senior judge like Mr Justice Rohinton Nariman some months ago.
I am totally with you against forcible conversion. If someone says that such conversions happen now, it is an indictment of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his number two and home minister Amit Shah. Are they so incapable that the Supreme Court has to be approached to prevent some Christians from forcibly converting Hindus? How preposterous the argument is.
When Lord Ram returned to Ayodhya, some stupid fellow spread a rumour about Sita Devi that she had an “affair” with Ravan when she was in his custody. Ram should have dismissed the rumour and defended his wife. Instead, he ordered a test of fire for Sita Devi which was not at all warranted. In the process, she felt sad that her beloved did not trust her. She returned to her own mother’s abode leaving Lord Ram in perpetual agony till he walked to his jal samadhi in the Saryu. If only he had not paid attention to the gossips in the marketplace!
I conclude with all the best wishes
A.J.Philip is a veteran journalist. The letter was originally published in Indian Currents. Read the original letter here.