The Definition of Conversion

June 28, 2006
Shantanu Dutta

The Minorities Commission reacting to the persecution of Christians in Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh has called for the term "conversion" itself to be defined, so that people know what conversion is and what it's not and that apparently will go a long way in solving the problem.

In dismissing what is actually an emotive issue in the land and relegating it to an issue of semantics which can be resolved simply by dusting up a few dictionaries and looking up the correct word and explaining the term to the foot soldiers of the Bajrang Dal or the Jammat e Islami or what have you, is being a little simplistic. Some years ago, the then Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee had sought as national debate on conversion to ostensibly arrive at the same result. But nothing happened. In the ensuing babble, some Christian leaders, to escape the heat called for a moratorium on conversions, only to be condemned by one and all including members of their own community (the assumption is that only Christians convert, just as the assumption is that only Muslims indulge in terrorism).

It may be appropriate to really own up in this day and age that conversion rarely happens in that blunt, in your face way that can be stopped. Sure the allurement and inducement aspect is there but it is rarely as open and upfront as some one being baptized and his name changed all for a job or a house or some utensils. That used to happen, sure, but in an age when it was not really perverted as is made out to be. It was more a matter of caring for some one who had now become one of your own, both socially and philosophically. It was not crass greed or bribery as is made out most often - in fact it is the garish reconversion ceremonies that have all the lavish and shallow trappings of inducement.

In a borderless environment, when ideologies are peddled like commodities, and each guru is up front selling his own branded dharma, it is difficult to decide who is converting whom. Some time back, the Supreme Court had ruled that inducement need not be only material measured by the pots and pans one acquired on conversion - it could well be ideological - the promise of a better future, a better after life or life could be termed as inducement.

If so, when the communists term religion as the opium of the masses and promise a fulfilled life bereft of exploitation in this life, are they offering an inducement to hapless workers- perhaps a false inducement even in case of the communists - since a worker's paradise is no where in sight. When all the TV gurus grabbing eyeballs and airwaves every morning and grabbing disciples on every TV channel (Hindu, Muslim, Christian gurus - take your pick!), are they alluring viewers and converting audiences? When political parties run or fund TV channels or newspapers to highlight or publish only a certain kind of news, are they converting minds?

Isn't everyone converting, here and everywhere if you really need a definition? I mean, what is freedom of expression all about anyway, except to make the point that my point of view is the only correct one and if you are canny and smart, you will come around to it sooner rather than later? Isn't it therefore conversion that we are all doing insidiously? So why do we need a definition?

Shantanu Dutta is a medical doctor by training and a development professional by vocation. His writings mostly deal with change, complexity and conversion and tries to look at a changing world through heaven's eyes.
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