12/15/2014, 00.00
INDIA
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Indian bishop: "conversions" are a blow to democracy and human dignity

by Felix Machado*
The bishop of Vasai talks to AsiaNews about recent of 'Ghar Vapsi' (homecoming) cases orchestrated by radical Hindus to convert Christians and Muslims to Hinduism. For him, "In professing their faith, people express their deepest aspirations and develop what is their innermost self, the inner sanctuary of their being that no one can violate."

Mumbai (AsiaNews) - I am deeply saddened and disappointed by the recent reconversions. They are a huge setback for dialogue and peace.

For dialogue to occur, we need partners who are 'open' and ready to listen to others. If one's partner is 'closed on himself' and prejudiced, then dialogue is futile.

We cannot talk to friends who have ulterior motives, because at that point there is no room for dialogue. Religions must lend themselves to openness and dialogue.

People must be made aware that there are serious global implications to such orchestrated mass reconversions for they go against human rights and dignity. In order to grab some people, who are poor, we are fanning the fires. 

For Mother Teresa of Kolkata, "it was an insult to the Indian people, to even think there could be forced or allured into converting."

These conversions are also a slap on democracy. These "converts" have had their constitutional guarantees and freedoms denied. Religious freedom is enshrined in our Constitution.

Believing is a free act. The dignity of the human person is "a transcendent value, always recognised as such by those who sincerely search for the truth."

Failing to respect such dignity leads to various and often-tragic forms of discrimination, exploitation, social instability as well as national and international conflict, which unfortunately have become familiar to us in recent times.

The term Ghar Vapsi, which means 'coming home,' is used. But who can decide what my house is? Who can tell me what my house is? Any definition of religion must include in itself the innate nature of human beings.

In professing their faith, people express their deepest aspirations and develop what is their innermost self, the inner sanctuary of their being that no one can violate.

For this reason, it is essential that each person be able to follow his or her conscience in all circumstances and that no one can ever force them to act against it.

There are adequate laws to guarantee religious freedom. Any conversion by force or pressure is illegal and invalid. Pushing people towards such conversions goes against religious freedom as envisaged in a secular India.

Such issues must be discussed at an inter-religious level. Spiritual leaders from all of India's religions must work together to eliminate divisions, suspicions, distrust and disharmony. They can do this by teaching the greatness and dignity of human beings, and by spreading a clearer sense of the oneness of the human family.

The desire for peace is deeply rooted in human nature and is found in different religions. And spiritual leaders must be responsible for and committed to dialogue and peace in our society and the world.

*Bishop of Vasai, president of the Office for Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue of the Catholic Bishops 'Conference of India (CBCI) and the Office for Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences (FABC)

(Nirmala Carvalho contributed to this article)

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