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Would a law against forced religious conversions be considered to be a just war?

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One of the primary discomforts that Christian Church leaders have with the BJP-led government is the Anti-Conversion Laws in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, and Karnataka. Their fear is a nationwide anti-conversion law against forceful conversions and conversions by allurement.

In fact, the Christian community in Karnataka along with the Muslim community decided to vote against the BJP-led government. Archbishop Peter Machado of the Archdiocese of Bangalore opined in his message to the Christian: We call upon the voters of our State to elect only such candidates, who uphold and abide by Constitutional values, promote communal harmony, and treat everyone equally irrespective of caste, creed, and religion. Let us send a strong message through these elections that the people of the State will not accept communal agendas like Hijab, Halal, Azaan, Anti-Conversion, etc.

Archbishop Machado expressed his fear to the media on the Anti-Conversion Bill: Forced conversion is only a myth. In the disguise for preventing forced conversion, this law is actually infringing the fundamental rights of the people. It violates the right to privacy and the right to personal liberty. A person who wants to convert has to submit a lot of personal details to the Government which is a violation of his privacy. It also curtails the freedom of a woman to marry a person of their choice irrespective of religion. This is not about fraudulent conversions. If there are forceful conversions, let the government take action. But the provisions of the Act, most of which are stringent, violate the fundamental rights of citizens. We will challenge these provisions and the Act in its entirety

He further asserted: Anything that is done for the poor and socially disadvantaged sections can be interpreted as an attempt at religious conversion. Institutions including schools, colleges, and hospitals of the Christian church can come under scrutiny for offering charity.

A wise teacher of the Christian faith and a philosopher who is credited with the ‘Just War’ theory, St Augustine opined:

The only just reason to go to war was the desire for peace. We do not seek peace in order to be at war, but we go to war so that we may have peace. Be peaceful, therefore, in warring, so that you may vanquish those whom you war against, and bring them to the prosperity of peace.

In his book ‘City of God’ St Augustine expressed, “A state has higher authority in their view, and if the response to evil and aggression met specific criteria, it would be deemed just, and the individual could participate. True religion looks upon as peaceful those wars that are waged not for motives of aggrandizement, or cruelty, but with the object of securing peace, punishing those who do evil, and of supporting the good.”

St Augustine in his ‘Letter 229′ said that it was better to kill war with words than to kill human beings with the sword. Yet he said that war was sometimes an unfortunate duty, waged to restore peace.

In simple terms, the just war theory attempts to reconcile three things. One, taking human life is seriously wrong. Two, states have a duty to defend their citizens and defend justice. And three, protecting innocent human life and defending important moral values sometimes require the willingness to use force and violence. The principles of the justice of war are commonly held to be: having just cause, being a last resort, being declared by a proper authority, possessing the right intention, having a reasonable chance of success, and the end being proportional to the means used.

The just war theory, as it appears in the Christian tradition, allows a Christian state to go to war to defend itself and the faith or to right a wrong that has been perpetrated against itself or the faith.

There are two types of war that are permissible within Christian thought, the holy war (crusades) and the just war. Holy war is fought for the goals or ideals of the faith and is waged by divine or religious authority. In a holy war, Christian participation is a positive duty, whereas, in a just war it is permissible, but restricted. Therefore, a holy war is automatically a just war, but a just war is not necessarily a holy war.

Catholic priest and Theologian Martin Luther who later went on to led the Protestant Reformation Movement against the Catholic Church opined: If anyone attempted to rule the world by the gospel and to abolish all temporal law and the sword on the plea that all are baptized and Christian, and that, according to the gospel, there shall be among them no law or sword – or the need for either – pray tell me friend, what would he be doing? He would be loosing the ropes and chains of the savage wild beasts and letting them bite and mangle everyone, meanwhile insisting that they were harmless, tame, and gentle creatures; but I would have the proof in my wounds. Just so would the wicked under the name of Christianity abuse evangelical freedom, carry on their rascality, and insist that they were Christians subject neither to law nor sword as some are already raving and ranting.

Both the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant Christian Church theorized on the philosophy of ‘just war’ to protect their idea of the Christian faith. Would it be considered inappropriate or unlawful or illegal for the Indian government to bring strong anti-conversion laws to preserve the indigenous faith of the people of India in particular Sanatan Dharma? Should not Hindus defend their faith and protect their people from forceful conversions or conversions by allurement not just? Hasn’t the Catholic Church and Protestant Church waged just war to protect their faith from being threatened?

The demonizing of Hindus and their demand for strong anti-conversion laws by Christian Church leaders must be questioned because the Catholic Church and Protestant Church have in their own religious reasoning provided in the principles of a ‘just war’ to protect one’s religious faith. Hindus are not against wilful conversions but forceful conversions and conversions by allurement.

To curb the menace of forced conversions in India it is only fair to have a clearly defined law against religious conversions and ensure that the law upholds the constitutional rights of an Indian citizen. The just war against forced conversions must be fought with the law and not by taking the law into one’s own hands because an adult is within his or her right to practice the faith of their choice and not necessarily the faith at the time of their birth or the majority faith in their family or society.

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