HAF Writes to Justices of Indian Supreme Court about Dara Singh Case

Minneapolis, MN (January 27, 2011) - The legal team at HAF sent letters to Honorable Justice P. Sathasivam and Honorable Justice Balbir Singh Chauhan of the Indian Supreme Court with regard to the much publicized case of Rabindra Kumar Pal @ Dara Singh vs Republic of India.  The Court, in an unprecendented move, modified language from its decision which initially stated, ”It is undisputed that there is no justification for interfering in one’s belief by way of ‘use of force’, provocation, conversion, incitement or upon a flawed premise that one religion is better than the other.”  The text of the letter is below.
 
Dear Honorable Justices,
 
In light of your recent Judgment in the case of Rabindra Kumar Pal @ Dara Singh vs Republic of India, the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) would like to respectfully call to your attention the crucial issue of predatory proselytization and resulting conversions and their detrimental impact on the religious rights of millions around the world, including India. As a leading U.S.-based Hindu advocacy and human rights organization, we have documented the human rights of Hindus in our annual human rights report, Hindus in South Asia and the Diaspora: A Survey of Human Rights, since our inception in 2003. This report, the seventh of which will be published in May 2011, has sought to bring awareness to the fear, devastation, and hopelessness faced by countless Hindus in countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, and the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir, where they are denied their religious freedom and other human rights.
 
It is not our intention to comment on the legal merits of the Judgment in this case, but we would like to respectfully articulate HAF’s position on the subject of predatory proselytization, resulting conversions, and their specific impact on India’s hallmark pluralistic ethos. Your Honorable Justices address this issue in paragraph 47 of the Decision, where you reflect on the words of former President of India, Shri K.R. Narayanan, who believed in the “philosophical concept of finding truth and goodness in every religion.” In the Decision, Your Honorable Justices further state, “It is undisputed that there is no justification for interfering in one’s belief by way of ‘use of force’, provocation, conversion, incitement or upon a flawed premise that one religion is better than the other.”
 
Please note that HAF firmly believes that religious violence, especially of the kind previously adjudicated in this case, is contrary to the teachings of the Hindu religion, India's long history of pluralism and India’s legacy of inter-religious coexistence, but concurs with Your Honorable Justices' observations of the detrimental impact of religious interference premised on the flawed assumption of religious supremacy. Interference in the practice of another’s religion, we humbly submit, is a violation of religious freedom, a fundamental human right, that is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 18, and the Constitution of India. As such, we are disheartened to learn that these critical remarks relating to conversions of the kind that are on-going in India have been subsequently removed from the Judgment, reportedly in response to criticism by Christian organizations.
 
Religious freedom, according to Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, incorporates, “the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.” This concept of religious freedom, unfortunately, fails to address, at the expense of adherents of pluralist and non-exclusivist religious traditions such as Hindu and other Dharmic traditions, the right to retain one's tradition and to be free from intrusion, harassment, intimidation, and exploitative and predatory proselytization by non-pluralist and exclusivist religions.
 
The world community has for too long turned a blind eye to predatory proselytization and the resulting unethical, fraudulent, forced, coerced, or provoked conversions by non-pluralist and exclusivist religions -- conversions that have been carried out for centuries in various parts of the world, including Asia, Africa, North and South America, the Middle East and Europe. Even today, this collective complacency has bred a surge in international campaigns which harass, intimidate, and exploit the most vulnerable segments of society by, among other ethically questionable methods, conditioning humanitarian aid or economic, educational, medical or social assistance upon conversion; overtly denigrating other religions to seek converts; and intentionally promoting religious hatred, bigotry (hate speech), and violence. Conversions gained through such means must be recognized for what they are -- unethical, fraudulent, forced, coerced, or provoked. These international campaigns are also responsible for creating deep and open conflict throughout the world and deny adherents of pluralistic faiths their religious freedom. India too has bore witness to this devastating phenomena.
 
The problem is increasingly significant in India, where well-funded foreign missionary groups systematically target poor and vulnerable communities, often under the guise of providing social services or humanitarian aid, but with the specific intent of converting them to Christianity. The nature and breadth of these mostly American, Australian and European groups has been extensively documented by several sources, including Tehelka Magazine. Tehelka, for instance, previously exposed a large scale strategy by American missionary organizations, some which received U.S. government funding, targeting India for aggressive and predatory proselytization. Tehelka’s investigation has described the approach as a “systematic, sophisticated and self-sustaining ‘harvest’ of the ‘unreached people groups’ in India in the 21st century.”
 
Statistics provided by missionary groups themselves demonstrate the magnitude of proselytization and conversion by these foreign institutions in sovereign India. According to the Central India Christian Mission (CICM), a U.S. based organization (Houston, TX), in 2010 alone, evangelical missionaries proselytized to over 320,000 people and converted more than 19,600 inhabitants in central India. This is one of only countless U.S. based Christian organizations engaged in these kinds of aggressive and predatory “soul harvesting” campaigns -- campaigns collectively which by some estimates amount to billions of U.S. dollars being funneled into India alone. While HAF supports the right of any individual to convert based upon genuine faith, belief, or study, we recognize any and all conversions gained through unethical, fraudulent, forced, coerced, or provoked means to be serious violations of human rights and Indian law.
 
We at the Foundation believe that recognition of the value of all religions is integral to mutual understanding, tolerance, pluralism, and peace, but the current reality of predatory proselytization and resulting conversions through harassment, intimidation, and exploitation in various parts of the world, and especially India, undermines these lofty goals. Many others would agree today and have for decades. As Mahatma Gandhi said, "... (it) is impossible to estimate the merits of the various religions of the world, and moreover I believe that it is unnecessary and harmful even to attempt it. But each one of them, in my judgment, embodies a common motivating force: the desire to uplift a man's life and give it purpose."
 
The Judgment from January 21, 2011 echoed what we have outlined above. It is our fervent hope and humble request that the language of the original Judgment remain unchanged. Thank you for your time and consideration.
 
Respectfully,
HAF