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Lavanya suicide: PIL in Supreme Court seeks probe by NIA, CBI, NHRC into predatory proselytization

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A public interest litigation (PIL) has been filed in the Supreme Court seeking appropriate direction to the National Investigation Agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation, the National Human Right Commission, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights to investigate the root-cause of the death by suicide of 17-year-old Lavanya, who died on January 19 in Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu. The PIL also sought a declaration that fraudulent religious conversion and religious conversion by intimidation, threatening, deceivingly luring through gifts and monetary benefits offends Articles 14, 21, 25 of the Constitution.

Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay
Advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay

The PIL filed by Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay, through Advocate Ashwani Kumar Dubey, also seeks direction to Centre and the States to take stringent steps to control fraudulent religious conversion and religious conversion by intimidation, threatening, deceivingly luring through gifts and monetary benefits and direction to the Law Commission of India to prepare a Report as well as a Bill to control ‘Deceitful Religious Conversion’ within three months in spirit of Articles 14, 21 and 25.

According to the PIL, M. Lavanya, a Class 12 student of Sacred Heart Higher Secondary School in Tamil Nadu, committed suicide by ingesting pesticides. In her dying declaration, she said she was tortured and pressured to convert to Christianity by the Missionary School. Thereafter, many people have taken to social media to demand justice for Lavanya.

The petitioner submitted Lavanya’s untimely demise is a wake-up call. It reminds people of evangelists’ imperialistic goals. Indeed, it reminds people of how an elaborate plan has been used to uproot Hinduism-Secularism through time. In fact, many more Lavanyas have been compelled to take such drastic measures as a result of such coercive-persuasive tactics.

The PIL alleged that there is not even one district which is free of religious conversion by ‘hook and crook and the carrot and the stick’. Incidents are reported every week throughout the country where conversion is done by intimidating, threatening, deceivingly luring through gifts/monetary benefits and also using black magic, superstition, miracles but Centre has not taken stringent steps to stop this menace.

“Article 25 guarantees propagation of Dharma not Adharma and practice of Riti (Customs) and Pratha (Traditions) not Kuriti and Kupratha. Public order is an expression of wide connotation and signifies a state of tranquility which prevails among the members of a political society as a result of internal regulations enforced by the Government which they have established.”

It is submitted that the right to freedom of religion guaranteed by Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution is expressly made subject to public order, morality and health. Therefore, both Articles contemplate those restrictions that may be imposed on the rights guaranteed by them in the interests of public order, morality and health, claimed the petitioner.

It is stated in the PIL that Centre has failed to control the menace of deceitful religious conversion, though it’s its duty under Articles 14, 21, 25. It is empowered to make special provisions for the benefit of women-children under Article 15 of the Constitution. Also, freedom of conscience, free profession, practice and propagation of religion is subject to public order, morality, health and other Part-III of the Constitution of India. Due to inaction of the Centre, many individuals, NGOs and institutions are involved in conversion of poor people to other religions by intimidating, threatening, deceivingly luring through gifts and monetary benefits.

The petitioner highlighted that situation is alarming as many individuals and organizations are carrying out mass conversions of SC/STs in rural areas. The mass conversion of socially economically underprivileged people, particularly belonging to SC/ST, has been on a steep rise for the last 2 decades. These organizations operate very smoothly targeting socially economically underprivileged sections particularly belonging to the SC/ST community.

“The intimidation and exploitation of the most vulnerable segments of society are primarily rooted in a surge of international conversion campaigns. In 2010 alone, Houston-based Missionary proselytized over 3,20,000 people and converted over 19,600 in Central India. In October 2010, Joyce Meyer Ministries (an NGO based in Fenton, Missouri) conducted one-week medical outreach in Kolkata in which over 2,200 people were treated and 1,300 people were converted.  At Source Light Ministries (an NGO based in South Africa), 25 child evangelists and 100 ‘church planters’ are trained monthly. Church planting is a process that results in a new church being established.”

The petitioner averred that several unethical predatory conversion strategies are commonly used. One method is material enticement in which humanitarian aid or economic, educational, medical or social assistance is offered on the condition that the person converts. Another is the denigration of the person’s religion to make a new religion appear superior. A third unethical, predatory method is the promotion of ‘bigotry’ i.e. knowingly and intentionally promoting religious hatred and violence. Predatory proselytization tears apart the fabric of the communities where it occurs and has led to the annihilation of cultures.

Several evangelical groups have taken the challenge of evangelizing India: (a) A missionary group has started a movement to mobilize various new missionaries to reach and evangelize the unreached groups of people. (b) A Church planting movement is initiated, targeting the unreached masses. They are sending out numerous workers from different training centers. (c) Missionary groups are executing a plan to saturate India with the Gospel carrying the aim of planting village churches (Christ groups) at least in half of India’s 6,00,000 villages through 5000 native missionaries. (d) Some evangelical groups fund and oversee a daily evangelism and church planting work to the unreached villages of India. Their goal is to ‘plant a church a day’ targeting about 4,80,000 unreached villages.

The PIL further averred that Missionaries are using inducements to convert tribals from their faith. The missionaries advise the new converts to give up the worship of their deities. Their participation in traditional religion-cultural celebration has declined. Most missionaries say: ‘You cannot worship two gods; you cannot be a Hindu as well as a Christian’. The missionaries insist that if one becomes a Christian then that person must not participate in Hindu festivals or worship. This creates friction at village and family levels. Sometimes, certain families stop contributing /participating in tribal festivals. Such behavior of a few, in small village households isolates them and ruptures social fabric. The missionaries, through their proselytizing activities may succeed in converting one or two members of a family.

Missionaries, through these converted members, try to influence other members of the family. This creates tension within families and eventually leads to intervention by religious organizations. Tribal worship many gods as their deities. Those who become Christians in a family throw away their deities and village people get divided and invite the intervention of village leaders, which often accentuates communal rivalry.

Another reason for conflict is related to identity. Christian tribes hide their religious identity to get government jobs reserved for ST. Christian evangelists insult Hindu saints and gods through leaflets published by evangelical groups, the Petitioner further highlights.

“Presently, Christians are a majority in Mizoram (88%), in Nagaland (88%), in Meghalaya (75%) and there is significant population in Manipur (42%), Arunachal Pradesh (31%), Goa, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal. Muslims are a majority in Lakshadweep (97%), Kashmir (96%), Laddakh (46%) and there is a significant Muslim population in Assam (35%), Bengal (28%), Kerala (27%), Uttar Pradesh (20%) and Bihar (18%),” the PIL reads.

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