“History of Hindu-Christian Encounters” by Sita Ram Goel – Debate in the Constituent Assembly (Part 15)

In this series of articles, we are introducing the book ‘History of Hindu-Christian Encounters (AD 304 to 1996) by Shri Sita Ram Goel, to readers old and new. Shri SR Goel was one of the leading intellectuals & writers of Independent Bharat, whose work was subsequently marginalised & suppressed by the left-leaning academic establishment. We are grateful to VoiceOfDharma.org for making this treasure trove of  books/articles available for the common public.

Debate in the Constituent Assembly

On April 29, 1947, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel presented to the Constituent Assembly the interim report on Fundamental Rights as submitted by the Advisory Committee. Clause 13 and 17 among the ‘Rights relating to religion’ generated a debate which took place on May 1. It was started by Shri K. M. Munshi who moved an amendment for rewording Clause 17 to read as follows: “Any conversion from one religion to another of any person brought about by fraud, coercion or undue influence or of a minor under the age of 18 shall not be recognised by law.”1

Explaining the amendment with regard to ‘conversion of a minor’, Shri Munshi said, “As a matter of fact, it was proposed by one or the other Committee in some form or other, and it is the general feeling that this clause should be restored in this form, – any conversion of a minor under the age of 18 shall not be recognised by law. The only effect of non-recognition by law would mean that even though a person is converted by fraud or coercion or undue influence or be converted during his minority he will still in law be deemed to continue to belong to the old religion and his legal rights will remain unaffected by reason of his conversion. The idea behind this proposal is that very often, if there are conversions by fraud or undue influence or during minority, certain changes in the legal status take place, certain rights are lost. This will have only this effect that the rights will remain exactly the same as at the moment a person was converted by fraud or coercion or undue influence and in the case of a minor at the moment of conversion.”2

Mr. Frank Anthony rose to move an amendment to Shri Munshi’s amendment. He said he wanted to add the words ‘except when the parents or surviving parents have been converted and the child does not choose to adhere to its original faith.’ In support of his suggestion, he said, “I agree that conversion under undue influence, conversion by coercion or conversion by fraud should not be recognised by law. I am only interested in this question, Sir, on principle. My community does not propagate. We do not convert, nor are we converted. But I do appreciate how deeply, how passionately millions of Christians feel on this right to propagate their religion. I want to congratulate the major party for having, in spite of its contentious character, retained the words ‘right to practise and propagate their religion’. Having done that, I say that after giving with one hand this principal fundamental of Christian rights, do not take it away by this proviso, ‘or of a minor under the age of 18’. I say that if you have this particular provision, or if you place an absolute embargo on the conversion of a minor, you will place an embargo absolutely on the right of conversion. You will virtually take away the right to convert. Because, what will happen? Not a single adult who is a parent, however deeply he may feel, however deeply he may be convinced, will ever adopt Christianity, because, by this clause you will be cutting off that parent from his children. By this clause you will say, although the parents may be converted to Christianity, the children shall not be brought up by these parents in the faith of the parents. You will be cutting at the root of family life. I say it is contrary to the ordinary concepts of natural law and justice. You may have your prejudices against conversion; you may have your prejudices against propagation. But once having allowed it, I plead with you not to cut at the root of family life. This is a right which is conceded in every part of the world, the right of parents to bring up their children in the faith that the parents want them to pursue. You have your safeguards. You have provided that conversion by undue influence, conversion by fraud, conversion by coercion shall not be recognised by law. You have even given discretion to the child provided it has attained the age of discretion to adhere to its original faith. The wording is ‘and the child does not choose to adhere to its original faith’. If both the parents are converted and if they want their children to be brought up as Christians, if these children have reached the age of discretion and say that in spite of the conversion of their parents, they do not want to be brought up as Christians, under the restriction which I have introduced, they will not be brought up in the Christian faith.”3

He was clear in his mind that the ‘right to propagate’ meant or included in its ambit the ‘right to convert’ not only adults but minors as well. “I realise,” he concluded, “how deeply certain sections of this House feel on this right. But I do ask you, having once conceded the right to propagate, to concede this in consonance with the principles of family law and in consonance with the principles of natural law and justice.”4

The next member to speak was Shri R. P. Thakur. He said, “Sir, I am a member of Depressed Classes. This clause of the Fundamental Rights is very important from the standpoint of my community. You know well, Sir, that the victims of these religious conversions are ordinarily from the Depressed Classes. The preachers of other religions approach these classes of people, take advantage of their ignorance, extend all sorts of temptations and ultimately convert them. I want to know from Mr. Munshi whether ‘fraud’ covers all these things. If it does not cover, I should ask Mr. Munshi to re-draft this clause so that fraud of this nature might not be practised on these depressed classes. I should certainly call these ‘fraud’.”5

The rest of the debate is being reproduced below:6

The Hon’ble Rev. J. J. M. Nichols-Roy (Assam: General): Mr. President, Sir, it appears to me that the clause as it came out of the Advisory Committee is sufficient and should not be amended at all. The amendment seeks to prevent a minor, who is of twelve years of age, or thirteen years of age, up to eighteen years of age from exercising his own conscience. The age limit may be quite right in law. But to think that a youth under the age of eighteen does not have a conscience before God and, therefore, he cannot express his belief is wrong. That side of the question must be appropriately considered. There is a spiritual side in conversion which ought to be taken notice of by this House. Conversion does not mean only that a man changes his form of religion from one religion to another, or adopts a different name of religion, such as, a Hindu becomes a Christian. But there is spiritual aspect of conversion, that is, the connection of the soul of man with God, which must not be overlooked by this House. I know there are those who change their religion being influenced by material considerations, but there are others who are converted being under the influence of spiritual power. When a boy feels that he is called by God to adopt a different faith, no law should prevent him from doing that. The consciences of those youths who want to change their religion and adopt another religion from a spiritual standpoint should not be prevented from allowing these youths to exercise their right to change their legal status and change their religion. We know, Sir, in the history of Christianity, there have been youths, and I know personally, there have been many youths, who have been converted to Christianity, who are ready to die for their conviction and who are ready to lose everything. I myself was converted when I was about fifteen years old when I heard the voice of God calling me. I was ready to lose anything on earth. I was ready to suffer death even. I did not care for anything save to obey and follow the voice of God in my soul. Why should a youth who has such a call of God be prevented by law from changing his religion and calling himself by another name when he feels before God that he is influenced by the Spirit of God to do that an is ready even to sacrifice his life for that. This part of the amendment about minors is absolutely wrong when we consider it from the spiritual standpoint. From the standpoint of conscience I consider that it is altogether wrong not to allow a youth from the age of twelve to eighteen to exercise his own conscience before God. It will oppress the consciences of the youths who want to exercise their religious faiths before God. Therefore, I am against this amendment as it is. The youths should be allowed to follow their own conviction if they have any, and should not be forced to do anything against their own conviction. Why should the law not allow them if they themselves do not care for their former legal status? Why should they be prevented from changing their religion? Why should their consciences be oppressed? That is a very important point, Sir, to be considered by this House. This freedom I consider to be a Fundamental Right of the youths. No law should be made which will work against good spiritual forces. India, especially, is a country of religions, a country where there is religious freedom. If this amendment is carried in this House, it will only mean that in making a law to prevent the evil forces our minds lose sight of the real religious freedom which the youths of this land ought to have. Therefore, I am against this very principle of forcing the youths by not allowing them to exercise their religious conviction according to their consciences. I would suggest, Sir, that if in the amendment moved by Mr. Anthony the words ‘or save when the minor himself wants to change his religion’ are included, then I do not object to this amendment. I am against any conversion by undue influence or by fraud or coercion. When we make a law against all these evils we should be careful to see that law does not oppress the consciences of the youths who also need freedom.7

The Hon’ble Shri Purushottamdas Tandon (United Provinces: General): Mr. President, I am greatly surprised at the speeches delivered here by our Christian brethren. Some of them have said that in this Assembly we have admitted the right of every one to propagate his religion and to convert from one religion to another. We Congressmen deem it very improper to convert from one religion to another or to take part in such activities and we are not in favour of this. In our opinion it is absolutely futile to be keen on converting others to one’s faith. But it is only at the request of some persons, whom we want to keep with us in our national endeavour that we accepted this. Now it is said that they have a right to convert young children to their faith. What is this? Really this surprises me very much. You can convert a child below eighteen by convincing and persuading him but he is a child of immature sense and legally and morally speaking this conversion can never be considered valid. If a boy of eighteen executes a transfer deed in favour of a man for his hut worth only Rs. 100/- the transaction is considered unlawful. But our brethren come forward and say that the boy has enough sense to change his religion. That the value of religion is even less than that of a hut worth one hundred rupees. It is proper that a boy should be allowed to formally change his religion only when he attains maturity.

One of my brethren has said that we are taking away with the left hand what we gave the Christians with our right hand. Had we not given them the right to convert the young ones along with the conversion of their parents they would have been justified in their statement. What we gave them with our right hand is that they have a right to convert others by an appeal to reason and after honestly changing their views and outlook. The three words, ‘coercion’, ‘fraud’ and ‘undue influence’ are included as provisos and are meant to cover the cases of adult converts. These words are not applicable to converts of immature age. Their conversion is coercion and undue influence under all circumstance. How can the young ones change their religion? They have not the sense to understand the teachings of your scriptures. If they change their religion it is only under some influence and this influence is not fair. If a Christian keeps a young Hindu boy with him and treats him kindly the boy may like to live with him. We are not preventing this. But the boy can change his religion legally only on attaining maturity. If parents are converts why should it be necessary that their children should also change their religion? If they are under the influence of their parents they can change their religion on maturity. This is my submission.8

Mr C. E. Gibbon (C. P. & Berar: General): It is quite

The Hon’ble Shri Purushottamdas Tandon: I am speaking, Sir, as a Congressman. I say that the majority of Congressmen do not like this process of making converts (interruption), but in order to carry our Christian friends with us.

Mr. C. E. Gibbon: I do not think, Sir, that the Speaker is competent to speak for all Congressmen.

Some Hon’ble Members: Why not?

Shri Balkrishna Sharma (United Provinces: General): The Speaker has every right to speak on behalf of most of the Congressmen. He is most certainly entitled to do so.

The Hon’ble Shri Purushottamdas Tandon: I know Congressmen more than my friend over there. I know their feelings more intimately than probably he has ever had an opportunity of doing, and I know that most Congressmen are opposed to this idea of ‘propagation’. But we agreed to keep the word ‘propagate’ out of regard for our Christian friends. But now to ask us to agree to minors also being converted is, I think, Sir, going too far. It is possible that parents having a number of children are converted into some other faith but why should it be necessary that all these children who do not understand religion should be treated as converts? I submit it is not at all necessary. The law of guardianship will see about it. Guardians can be appointed to look after these children, and when they grow up, if they feel that Christianity is a form of religion which appeals to their minds they will he at liberty to embrace it. That much to my Christian friends.

I understand, Sir, that it is possible that difficulties may be raised by some lawyers. What is the legal difficulty about this matter? The ordinary law of guardianship will see about this. When we say that minors cannot be converted, that implies that when parents go to another faith and they have a number of children to look after the law of the country will take care of those children. You can always enact a law of guardianship and you can, if necessary, add to the laws which at present exist on the subject so that in such cases the minors should be taken care of. I do not, Sir, therefore, see that there is any legal difficulty in the way of the amendment which Mr. Munshi has proposed being accepted. I heartily support Mr. Munshi’s amendment.9

Shri Ranmath Goenka: My point of order is, Sir, that under clause 13 which we have passed, all persons are equally entitled of freedom of conscience. ‘All persons’ must necessarily include at least those persons who have attained the: age of discretion. It is not necessary that they must attain the age of 18 before developing conscience. It may be at the age of twelve, fifteen, sixteen or seventeen. If we pass clause 17 and prescribe the age of 18, it will be inconsistent with clause 13 which we have just now passed.10

Shri Ananthasayanam Ayyangar: Sir, I want to oppose this point of order raised by Mr. Goenka in a different way. The mover of this point of order said he has no objection to persons who are of the age of discretion being converted. But the age of discretion has not been defined anywhere. It is open to this Assembly to say that the age of discretion is eighteen. Therefore, there is really no point of order, or there is no point in this point order.

Mr. D. N. Datta: Mr. President, Sir, I feel that the whole of this clause 17 should go to the Fundamental Rights Committee and I would be glad if the whole clause could be deleted. I know the reasons for enumerating this under the Fundamental Rights, because we are now working under the present setting. But as it is going to be enumerated in the Fundamental Rights, it has to be seen, Sir, whether the amendment of Mr. Anthony should be accepted. Mr. Anthony wants that the option of the minors to join the religion they like on attaining majority, should be retained, just as the choice is given to Mohammadan children given in marriage during minority to repudiate the marriage on attaining majority, – what we call the option of puberty. A similar right he intends to be given to the children of the parents who have been converted. On attaining majority the child shall have the right of declaring whether he adheres to his original faith or whether he will join the faith of his parents who were converted. I for myself, do not see any reason, why that right should not be given to the child on attaining majority. On attaining, he may declare, if he was a Hindu, that he will adhere to Hinduism or if his parents have taken to Christianity, whether he will become a Christian. I think this right should not be taken away. It should be given and how it is to be given, it is for the Drafting Committee, or better still, that it should go to the Fundamental Rights Committee to determine whether this clause should remain or how it should remain. And before I go, I must say that the remark of Mr. Tandon that the majority of the Congress members are not in favour of introducing the word ‘propagate’ in clause 13 is not correct. This matter was discussed yesterday and the majority were in favour of keeping the word ‘propagate’. Therefore, the contention of Mr. Tandon is not correct.11

Rev. Jerome D’Souza (Madras: General): Mr. President, I regret, Sir, that this discussion should have taken a turn which makes it look as if it is almost exclusively a minority problem, and as a result of that, degree of heat has been imported into it which most of us regret very much indeed. Sir, when this matter was discussed at the committee stage, quite independently from the question of minorities, legal difficulties with which the question bristles were brought home to us by men of the highest authority like Sir Alladi. As far as the minority rights are concerned, I can only say this, that the way in which clause 13 has been handled by this House is so reassuring and so encouraging to the minorities that we have no reason at all to quarrel or to ask for stronger assurances. That attitude must provoke on the part of the minorities an equally trustful attitude which I hope will inspire future relations and future discussions. I appreciate Mr. Anthony’s stand that this is a question of wider nature of principle and family authority. I assure you I am speaking from that point of view. This question of conversion of minors may affect not only majorities in relation to minorities but the minorities among themselves, – one Christian group in relation to Another Christian group, as Catholics and Protestants, and so on. But among all sections, in regard to the authority of a man over his family, I think certain rights should be assured and must be part of fundamental rights. We have nothing in these fundamental rights that safeguards or encourages or strengthens the family in an explicit way, and indeed I do not think this is necessary at this stage, because that is not a justiciable right. There are certain constructions where the wish of the State to protect and encourage the family is explicitly declared. I hope in the second part, among these fundamental rights which are not justiciable, some such declaration or approbation of the institution and rights and privileges associated with family life will be introduced. It may perhaps be thought that in our country such a declaration is not necessary because among us the strongest family feeling is universal; we have not merely individual or unitary families but we have also joint families. I believe the discussion on this point has been partly influenced by that background of the joint family system. I am sure that Tandonji if I may be permitted to refer to him by name, when he was speaking of the minor child of converted parents, was thinking really in terms of the joint family where there are people ready to take over and bring up such children; But we are legislating for all sections of our people, for those also who are not in joint families but in unitary families. We are legislating for them, and therefore, some provisions must be made which, in the last analysis, will safeguard the authority of the parent, both parents or the surviving parent, in particular, as Mr. Anthony has said, in regard to nannies in the arms of their mothers. To take them away from the mother or father who are one with them, practically identified physically and juridically with them, is to introduce into our legislation an element which certainly weakens the concept of the authority and sanctity of the family. On this ground, as well as on the legal implications to which attention has been drawn, I mean difficulties in connection with the death, the marriage, the succession rights, of these minors, I oppose Mr. Munshi’s amendment as it stands. Take the question of marriage. Marriage is permitted before 18 years. Now Mr. Munshi has carefully explained that his amendment does not prevent the minor children from going with the parents. But if they are to be married, under what law, by the ceremonies of which religion will they be married? if they follow their conscience and the religion they have adopted, whether they be Hindus, Muslims, or Christians, the question of the validity of that marriage will come in. All this is bristling with legal and juridical difficulties, quite apart from those other considerations into which, as I said, I regret we have entered with undue warmth. While I want to support Mr. Anthony’s motion, I am more inclined to support the suggestion of the speaker who immediately preceded me, and ask the House to refer the entire clause back to the Advisory Committee so that the wording of it may be most carefully weighed. It can be brought back to this House just as we have decided, to bring back three or four other controversial matters. That is my suggestion and I would request.12

Shri Algu Rai Shastri (U.P. : General): Mr. President, I stand here to support the amendment moved by Mr. Munshi. I believe that by accepting the amendment we shall be doing justice to those minors who have perforce to enter the fold of the religion which their parents embrace out of their greed. This practice is like the one prevailing in the transactions of transfer of land and which is that ‘trees go with the land’. It is on some such basis that the minor children who do not understand what change of religion or coercion or religious practices mean, have to leave their old faith along with their parents. This evil practice has a very bad effect on the strength of our population. It is proper for us that we, who are framing the charts of Fundamental Rights, should safeguard their interests and save them from such automatic conversion. The dynamic conditions of our society make it more important than ever that we should incorporate such a provision in our Constitution as will prevent such practices. Such minors on attaining majority often regret that they were made to change their religion, improperly. Wherever the Europeans or the white races of Europe, who rule practically over the whole world, have gone, they have, as Missionaries. A study of the ‘Prosperous India’ by Digby shows that ‘cross was followed by the sword.’ The missionary was followed by the batons, the swords and the guns. It was in this way that they employed coercion for spreading their religion and for extending their Empire. At the same time, they put economic and political pressure on the indigenous tribes and consolidated the foundations of their dominion. We want such an amendment in this clause of Fundamental Rights that a person who wants to change his religion should be able to do so only after he is convinced through cool deliberation that the new religion is more satisfactory to him than the old one. For example it is only when I am convinced that Sikhism is preferable to Hinduism, that I should be able to change my religion. This right I believe we have. But no one should change religion out of greed and temptation. When the followers of one religion employ sword and guns to attack a family consisting of a few members the latter have no option but to accept the religion of the aggressors in order to save their lives. Such a conversion should be considered void and ineffective because it has been brought about through coercion and undue influence. In view of such conditions which exist today, conversion brought about through temptation and allurement is, in fact, not a conversion in the real sense of the term. I have a personal experience extending over a period of 24 years as to how the elders, of the family are induced through prospects of the financial gain to change their religion and also with them the children are taken over to the fold of the new religion. It appears as if some are taking the land physically in his possession and the helpless trees go with it to the new master.

One particular part of the country has been declared as an ‘Excluded Area’, so that a particular sect alone may carry on its propaganda therein. Another area has been reserved for the ‘Criminal tribes’. Similarly, other areas have also been reserved wherein missionaries alone can carry on their activities. In Chattisgarh and other similar forest areas there are tribes which follow primitive faiths. There the Hindu missionaries cannot carry on their activities. These are called ‘Excluded and partially Excluded Areas’, and no religious propaganda can be carried on in these areas except by the missionaries. This was the baneful policy of the Government. We should now be delivered from this policy o religious discrimination. In his book ‘Census of India-1930’ Dewton writes that the Christian population of Assam has increased 300 times and attributes this increase to certain evils in Hindu Society. It is these evils which gave other missionaries opportunities to make conversions. In his book ‘Census of India-1911’ Mr. S. Kamath has said that the missionaries of one particular religion are reducing the numbers of another by exploiting the evils of that group. They convert some influential persons by inducement and persuasion. The bitterness of the present is due to such activities. I am conversant with what Christian missions have done for the backward classes and I have also seen their work among such classes of people. I bow to them with respect for the way in which they (missionaries) have done their work. How gracious it would have been had they done it only for social service. I found that the dispute, if and when it occurs, between members of such castes as the sweepers or the chamars on the one side and the land-lords or some other influential persons on the other, has been exploited to create bitterness between them. No effort has been made to effect a compromise. This crooked policy has been adopted to bring about the conversion of the former. Similarly, people of other faiths have intensified and exploited our differences in order to increase their own numbers. The consequence is that the grown-up people in such castes as Bhangies and chamars are converted, and with them their children also go into the fold of the new religion. They should be affectionately asked to live as brothers. This is what has been taught by prophets, angels and leaders. But this is not being practised, today. We are in search of opportunities to indulge in underhand dealings. We go to people and tell them ‘you are in darkness; this is not the way for your salvation’. Thus every body can realise how all possible unfair means have been adopted to trample the majority community under feet. It is in this way that the Foreign bureaucracy has been working here, and has been creating vested interests in order to maintain its political strangle-hold over the people. If we cannot remove this foundation whom are we going to give the Fundamental Rights? TO these minors who are in the lap of their parents? If we permit minors to be transferred like trees on land with the newly embraced religion of their parents, we would be doing an injustice. Many fallacious arguments are offered to permit this. We must not be misled by these. We know that our failure to stop conversion under coercion would result in grave injustice. I have a right to change my religion. I believe in God. If I realise tomorrow that God is a farce and an aberration of human mind then I can become an atheist. If I think that the Hindu faith is false, I, with my grey hair, my fallen teeth, and ripe age, and my mature discretion can change my religion. But if my minor child repeats what I say, are you going to allow him also a right to change his religion (at that age)? Revered Purushottam Das Tandon has said in a very appealing manner that if a child transfers his immovable property worth Rs.100 the transaction is void. How unjust it is that if a minor changes his religion when his parents do so, his act is not void? It has an adverse effect on innocent children. This attempt to increase population has increased religious bitterness. The communal proportion has been changed so that the British bureaucracy may retain its hold by a variation in the numbers of the different communities. I am saying all these things deliberately but I am not attacking any one community in particular. The sole interest of the government in the illusory web of census lies in seeing a balance in the population of the communities so that these may continue to quarrel among themselves and thereby strengthen its own rule. This amendment of Mr. Munshi is directed against such motives. Nothing can be better than that, and, therefore, I support it.

In my opinion this majority community should not oppress the minority. We respect and honour all and we give an opportunity to everybody to propagate his religion. Those who agree with you may be converted. But convert only those who can be legitimately converted. Improper conversions would not be right. You tempt the innocent little ones whom you take in your lap, by a suit of clothes, a piece of bread and a little toy and thus you ruin their lives. Later, they repent that they did not get an opportunity to have a religion of their choice. I, myself, am prepared to change my religion. But some one should argue with me and change my views and then convert me. Surely, I should have no right to change the religion of my children with me, specially children below a certain age. Those children are considered to be minors who are under teens, i.e., below eighteen.13

Mr. H. V. Kamath: (Under teens includes nineteen.)

Shri Algu Rai Shastri: However if it is nineteen, it is all the better. Even if it is not possible they should extend minority by a year of grace. The age limit fixed for minors and majors should be adopted in religious matter as well. They say that there would be no incentive for conversion if people have to forego their children. I hear that in Japan the father has one religion and the child another. What does religion mean? Does the mother feed her baby so that the child’s religion might change? If the mother’s love is true she will surely feed her baby. Does the mother’s milk change the religion? We do not wish to snatch away the child from the mother’s lap, but we wish to give to the baby a right to record his (natal) religion in the report of the Census and any other government records, till he attains majority and declares his (new) religion. We give him this right in this amendment.. Parents need the company of their children. If they have changed their religion discreetly, let them educate their children. But the change in the religion of the children maybe considered (only) on their declaration at reaching majority. This is the purpose of this amendment and I support it, and I strongly oppose the view that this right should not be given to children.14

Mr. Jagat Narain Lal (Bihar: General): Mr. President, I was expecting that after the acceptance of Clause 13, no representative of any minority of this House will have any ground for any objection. Clause 13 lays down that : ‘All persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion subject to public order, morality or health or to the other provisions of this Chapter.’

This goes to the ‘farthest limit’. If you look to any of the best of ‘modern world’ Constitutions, you will find that nowhere has this right to propagate been conceded. if you look at Article 50 of the Swiss Confederation, it lays down that ‘the free exercise of religion is guaranteed within limits compatible with public order and morality.’ It ends there. If you look at Article 44 sub-clause (2) 1 of the Irish Free State, you will find there : ‘Freedom of conscience and the free profession and practice of religion are subject to public order and morality, guaranteed to every citizen.’

If you refer to Article 124 of the Constitution of the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics you will find: ‘In order to ensure to citizens freedom of conscience, the Church in the U.S.S.R is separated from the State and the school from the Church. Freedom of religious worship and freedom of antireligious propaganda is recognised for all citizens.’

If I place before you all the clauses pertaining to ‘Freedom of professing religion’, it will tax your patience. I do not want to waste more of your time in this connection. My submission is that this House has gone to the farthest limit possible with regard to the minorities, knowing well the fact that there are a few minorities in this country whose right to carry on propaganda extends to the point of creating various difficulties. I do not want to go into its details. The previous speaker had referred to certain things in this connection. I submit that should be sufficient. Hon’ble Tandonji by his observation that on reading the mind of most of the Congress members of this House he did not want to keep ‘right to do propaganda’ (on the statute), has rightly interpreted the mind of most of us. The fact is that we desire to make the minorities feel that the rights which they had been enjoying till now shall be allowed to continue within reasonable limits by the majority. We have no desire to curtail them in any way. But we do not concede the right to do propaganda. I want to appeal to those who profess to speak for the minorities not to press for too much. They must be satisfied with this much. It will be too much to press for more. That would be taking undue advantage of the generosity of the majority. That will be very regrettable. It is difficult, rather impossible, for us to go to that limit. I think that the amendment tabled by Mr. Munshi becomes essential if the right to propagate is conceded. The House should, therefore, accept it. Various arguments have been advanced in the House, and so I do not want to comment upon them again. With these words I support Mr. Munshi.15

Dr. B. R. Ambedkar: Mr. President, Sir, I am sorry to say that I do not find myself in agreement with the amendment which has been moved by Mr. Munshi relating to the question of the conversion of minor children. The clause, as it stands probably gives the impression to the House that this question relating to the conversion of minors was not considered by the Fundamental Rights Committee or by the Minorities Sub Committee or by the Advisory Committee. I should like to assure the House that a good deal of consideration was bestowed on this question and every aspect was examined. It was after examining the whole question in all its aspects, and seeing the difficulties which came up, that the Advisory Committee came to the conclusion that they should adhere to the clause as it now stands.

Sir, the difficulty is so clear to my mind that I find no other course but to request Mr. Munshi to drop his amendment. With regard to children, there are three possible cases which can be visualised. First of all, there is the case of children with parents and guardians. There is the case of children who are orphans, who have no parents and no guardians in the legal sense of the word. Supposing you have this clause prohibiting the conversion of children below 18, what is going to be the position of children who are orphans? Are they not going to have any kind of religion? Are they not to have any religious instruction given to them by some one who happens to take a kindly interest in them? It seems to me that, if the clause as worded by Mr. Munshi was adopted, viz., that no child below the age of 18 shall be converted it would follow that children who are orphans, who have no legal guardians, cannot have any kind of religious instruction. I am sure that this is not the result which this House would be happy to contemplate. Therefore, such a class of subjects shall have to be excepted from the operation of the amendment proposed by Mr. Munshi.

Then, I come to the other class, viz., children with parents and guardians. They may fall into two categories. For the sake of clarity it might be desirable to consider their cases separately; the first is this: where children are converted with the knowledge and consent of their guardians and parents. The second case is that of children of parents who have become converts.

It does seem to me that there ought to be a prohibition upon the conversion of minor children with legal guardians, where the conversion takes place without the consent and knowledge of the legal guardians. That, I think, is a very legitimate proposition. No missionary who wants to convert a child which is under the lawful guardianship of some person, who according to the law of guardianship is entitled to regulate and control the religious faith of that particular child, ought to deprive that person or guardian of the right of having notice and having knowledge that the child is being converted to another faith. That, I think, is a simple proposition to which there can be no objection.

But when we come to the other case, viz., where parents are converted and we have to consider the case of their children, then I think we come across what I might say a very hard rock. If you are going to say that, although parents may be converted because they are majors and above the age of 18, minors below the age of 18, although they are their children, are not to be converted with the parents, the question that we have to consider is, what arrangement are we going to make with regard to the children? Suppose, a parent is converted to Christianity. Suppose a child of such a parent dies. The parent, having been brought up in the Christian faith, gives the Christian burial to the dead child. Is that act on the part of the parent in giving a Christian burial to the child, to be regarded as an offence in law? Take another case. Suppose a parent who has become converted has a daughter. He marries that daughter according to Christian rites. What is to be the consequence of that marriage? What is to be the effect of that marriage? Is that marriage legal or not legal?

If you do not want that the children should be converted, you have to make some other kind of law with regard to guardianship in order to prevent the parents from exercising their rights to influence and shape the religious life of their children. Sir, I would like to ask whether it would be possible for this House to accept that a child of five, for instance, ought to be separated from his parents merely because the parents have adopted Christianity, or some religion which was not originally theirs. I refer to these difficulties in order to show that it is these difficulties which faced the Fundamental Rights Committee, the Minorities Committee and the Advisory Committee and which led them to reject this proposition. It was, because we realised, that the acceptance of the proposition, namely, that a person shall not be converted below the age of 18, would lead to many disruptions, to so many evil consequences, that we thought it would be better to drop the whole thing altogether. (Hear, hear). The mere fact that we have made no such reference in Clause 17 of the Fundamental Rights does not in my judgement prevent the legislature when it becomes operative from making any law in order to regulate this matter. My submission, therefore, is that reference back of this clause to a committee for further consideration is not going to produce any better result. I have no objection to the matter being further examined by persons who feel differently about it, but I do like to say that all the three Committees have given their best attention to the subject. I have, therefore, come to the conclusion that having regard to all the circumstances of the case, the best way would be to drop the clause altogether. I have no objection to a provision being made that children who have legal and lawful guardians should not be converted without the knowledge and notice of the parents. That, I think, ought to suffice in the case.16

The Hon’ble Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel: Sir, this is not a matter free from difficulties. There is no point in introducing any element of heat in this controversy. It is well known in this country that there are mass conversions, conversions by force, conversions by coercion and undue influence, and we cannot disguise the fact that children also have been converted, that children with parents have been converted and that orphans have been converted. Now, we need not go into all the reasons or the forces that led to these conversions, but if the facts are recognised, we who have to live in this country and find a solution to build up a nation, – we need not introduce any heat into this controversy to find a solution. What is the best thing to do under the circumstances? There may be different points of view. There are bound to be differences in the viewpoints of the different communities, but, as Dr. Ambedkar has said, this question has been considered in three Committees and yet we have not been able to find a solution acceptable to all. Let us make one more effort and not carry on this discussion, which will not satisfy everybody. Let this be therefore referred to the Advisory Committee. We shall give one more chance.17

So Clause 17 was ‘referred back to the Advisory Committee.’18

The indecision of the Constituent Assembly regarding Clause 17 provoked a strong Christian reaction. The National Christian Council Review of June-July 1947 published an ‘Open Letter’ by L. Sen on the subject of ‘Religious Liberty’ “All this talk,” said the writer, “about mass conversions being achieved by improper means is absolute balderdash: For several centuries Hindus have kept the so-called untouchables from their temples and still do so in most places. It is a curious mentality that excludes a homeless man from one’s own house and will not allow him to enter someone else’s: Mr. Gandhi’s great objection to conversion is that all religions are equally good. But Christianity does not think so. Mr. Gandhi will call this being intolerant. Very well, then, on his own showing Christianity which is intolerant must be inferior to Hinduism. He should, therefore, try to convert others to this nobler faith. Assuming, however, that Mr. Gandhi is right about the equality of all religions, why is he so anxious to prevent conversions by restrictive legislation? Is his conception of what is right or what is wrong only going to prevail in free India? Man has certain inalienable rights which not even a majority vote can take away. One of these rights is that he is free to choose his religion or society, without his motive being impugned by government, whether fascist, communist or democratic.”19

The same issue commented on the proceedings of the Constituent Assembly. “At this session,” it said, “the all-important subject of the Fundamental Rights came up. Both in the Committee which presented the Report of Fundamental Rights, and on the floor of the Assembly a good deal of heated discussion took place. High tribute must be paid to the Committee for presenting a report which is marked by a true sense of justice and fair play. It is particularly gratifying to note that freedom of conscience – the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion, in the defence of which the National Christian Council has often expressed itself, has been recognized. The proposed amendment, relating to the right of conversion, however, according to which young people under the age of 18 will not be allowed to change their religion, seems to us to be an undue interference with that freedom which has been properly recognized in the report. If parents who are convinced of the need for a change of faith are prevented from doing so for strong reasons of affection and attachment to their children, then the freedom of conversion become a mockery. Other serious things might be said against the proposed amendment – and some of these have been said on the floor of the Assembly – but even this is enough to indicate the harm such an amendment is likely to do to the cause of religious liberty. We hope, therefore, that the clause relating to conversion will be allowed to remain as it is. The prevention of coercion and improper influence in the matter of conversion is right and necessary and has been amply provided for in the clause as it stands.”20

The campaign was carried forward in the August issue of the monthly. It advised the Congress members not to take to the path of Nazi Germany. “The Congress members of the Constituent Assembly,” it said, “who wish to make everything Hindu from top to bottom should take a lesson from history. Hitler created a kind of nationalism which brought about the ruin of the German nation. His nationalism created a narrow outlook, and a sense of racial superiority which produced hatred for other nationals, and racial stocks. He gave to the German people those things and ideas which made the Germans feel distinctly different from others, i.e. the Swastika and a special salutation.”21

The same issue of the Review carried an article, ‘Evangelism in Independent India’, by Rev. Stanley Jones. “In many quarters,” he wrote, “there is a good deal of pessimism. It reaches all the way from the simple Indian Christian who said to me: ‘I hear that when independence comes we Indian Christians will be forced to go back to the different castes from which we came’; to the Indian Bishop who is saying in the West that the Christians are going to undergo persecution in an independent India, an attempt will be made to wipe them out. Another expressed this pessimism when he said, ‘I hear all the missionaries are going to be sent out of India with the coming of independence.’ A superintendent of police said to me, ‘Now that the British are going, are you missionaries going too?'”

“Also there will be an attempt,” he continued, “here and there to make it impossible for men to accept the Christian faith. In about 17 of the Native States there have been enacted laws which make it necessary for one to appear before a magistrate when he wants to change his faith, and after police investigation the magistrate decides whether he can or not. That makes it almost impossible to change one’s faith. But that is in the Indian States. The place to watch is the Centre. For the attitudes of the Centre will gradually prevail in the States. It is the Centre that counts. In time all will have to fall in line with it.”22

He related what he had discovered after meeting the top Congress leaders:

So I went to Sardar Patel, the strong man of the Congress, and asked him what part the missionaries can play, if any, in this new India. I told him that I was going to the Kodaikanal and the Landour Conventions which are important missionary centers and I wanted some word to bring to them from the highest sources. He very thoughtfully replied, “Let them go on as they have been going on – let them serve the suffering with their hospitals and dispensaries, educate the poor and give selfless service to the people. They can even carry on their propaganda in a peaceful manner. But let them not use mass conversions for political ends.” “If they do this then there is a place for them in the new India?” I asked. “Certainly,” he replied, “we want them to throw themselves in with India, identify themselves with the people and make India their home.” This was quite clear and straightforward and from the man who has to do with the question of who shall or shall not come into India, for he is the Home Member.

I then saw C. Rajgopalachariar and asked him the same question. His reply was that “While I agree that you have the right of conversion, I would suggest that in this crisis when religion is dividing us it would be a better part of your strategy to dim conversions and serve the people in various ways until the situation returns to a more normal state. If you are not willing to do that then I would suggest that instead of ‘Profess, practise and propagate’ as suggested in the Committee, it should be ‘Belief, worship and preach’.” Then I further asked, “Will the missionaries be tolerated or welcomed as partners in this new India?” His reply was: “If they take some of the attitudes I suggest, then they will not only be welcomed, they will be welcomed with gratitude, for what they have done and will do.”

The third man I saw was Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad, the gracious head of Education in the Central Government. I asked him whether missionaries could be tolerated or welcomed as partners in the making of this new India. His reply was: “Do not use the word ‘tolerate’, there is no thought of that. You will be welcomed. There is no point at issue with the missionaries, except at one point: at the place of mass conversions where there is no real change of heart. We believe in the right of outer change where there is inner change, but when masses are brought over without any perceptible spiritual change then it arouses suspicions as to motives. But apart from that we have no point at issue. You will be welcomed gratefully for what you have done not only for India but for other parts of the world such as the Near East.”

The fourth man to whom I went was the man whom Gandhiji calls ‘the uncrowned king of India’, Jawaharlal Nehru, and when I asked him whether missionaries will be tolerated or welcomed as partners in the making of the new India his reply was: “I am not sure as to what is involved in being looked on as partners. But we will welcome anyone who throws himself into India and makes India his home.”

The fact of the matter is that the greatest hour of Christian opportunity has come in India. I have never had such a hearing in forty years as I have had in these last six months in India. The tensions have been let down. The combativeness against the Christian faith has been eased into an attitude of wistful yearning hoping that the Christians have some answer to the problems that confront us.

The Christian Church must now search its own heart and set its own house in order. It must cease from little irrelevancies and give itself to big things. The big thing in India is to present Christ in such a way as to become inescapable in the India to be. And the Church itself must be the message – it must show itself the embodiment of the new order:

Then every Christian must become a witness on fire with the love of Christ. The whole body of Christians must now be ablaze with the divine passion to serve and to save. It must consume us. For the crucial hour of the Church has now come in India.23

The debate on Clause 17 was resumed on August 30, 1947:

The Honourable Sardar Vallabhbhai J. Patel: The Committee discussed this and there were several other suggestions made by the House and the clause was referred back to the Committee. After further consideration of this clause, which enunciates an obvious principle, the Committee came to the conclusion that it is not necessary to include this as a fundamental right. It is illegal under the present law and it can be illegal at any time.24

Shri M. Ananthasayanam Ayyangar (Madras: General): It is unfortunate that religion is being utilised not for the purpose of saving one’s soul but for disintegrating society. Recently after the announcement by the Cabinet Mission and later on by the British Government, a number of conversions have taken place. It was said that power had been handed over to Provincial Governments who were in charge of these matters. This is dangerous. What has religion to do with a secular State? Our minorities are communal minorities for which we have made provision. Do you want an opportunity to be given for numbers to be increased for the purpose of getting more seats in the Legislatures? That is what is happening. All people have come to the same opinion that there should be a secular State here; so we should not allow conversion from one community to another. I therefore want that a positive fundamental right must be established that no conversion shall be allowed, and if any occasion does arise like this, let the person concerned appear before a judge and swear before him that he wishes to be converted. This may be an out-of-the-way suggestion but I would appeal to this House to realize the dangerous consequences otherwise. Later on it may attain enormous proportions. I would like this matter to be considered and the question referred back for a final draft for consideration at a later sitting.25

Shri R. V. Dhulekar: Mr. President, my opinion is that Clause 17 should be retained as it stands. in the present environment, all sorts of efforts are being made to increase the population of a particular section in this country, so that once again efforts may be made to further divide this country. There is ample proof, both within this House and outside that many who live in this country are not prepared to be the citizens of this country. Those who have caused the division of our land desire that India may be further divided. Therefore in view of the present circumstances, i think that this clause should be retained. it is necessary that full attention should be paid to this. While on tour, I see every day refugees moving about with their children and I find them at railway stations, shops, hotels, bakeries and at numerous other places. The men of these bakeries abduct these women and children. There should be legislation to stop this. I would request you that an early move should be made to stop all this and millions of people would be saved.

I submit that we cannot now tolerate things of this nature. We are being attacked, and we do not want that India’s population, the numerical strength of the Hindus and other communities should gradually diminish, and after ten years the other people may again say that ‘we constitute a separate nation’. These separatist tendencies should be crushed.

Therefore I request that section 17 may be retained in the same form as is recommended by the Advisory Committee.26

The Honourable Sardar Vallabhbhai J. Patel: Much of this debate may be shortened if it be recognised that there is no difference of opinion on the merits of the case that forcible conversion should not be or cannot be recognised by law. On that principle there is no difference of opinion. The question is only whether this clause is necessary in the list of fundamental rights. Now, if it is an objective for the administration to act, it has a place in the Second part which consists of non-justiciable rights. If you think it is necessary, let us transfer it to the Second part of the Schedule because it is admitted that in the law of the land forcible conversion is illegal. We have even stopped forcible education and, we do not for a moment suggest that forcible conversion of one by another from one religion to another will be recognised. But suppose one thousand people are converted, that is not recognised. Will you go to a court of law and ask it not to recognise it? It only creates complications, it gives no remedy. But if you want this principle to be enunciated as a seventh clause, coming after Clause 6, in the Second Schedule, it is unnecessary to carry on any debate; you can do so. There is no difference of opinion on the merits of the case. But at this stage to talk of forcible conversion on merits is absurd, because there cannot be any question about it.27

At this stage Mr. Hussain Iman walked up to the rostrum to speak.

The Honourable Sardar Vallabhbhai J. Patel: Do you advocate forcible conversion?

Mr. Hussain Iman: No, Sir, I very much regret the attitude of certain Members who are in the habit of bringing in controversial matters without any rhyme or reason. It was really a most uncalled for attack which the last speaker made on the Mussalmans, without mentioning names. But I regret that in the atmosphere which we are trying to create of amity such intrusions should be allowed to intervene and mar the fair atmosphere.

Sir, what I came to suggest was that this is such a fundamental thing that there is no need to provide for it. According to the law everything which has been done under coercion is illegal. Anything done by reason of fraud can never stand. Forcible conversion is the highest degree of undesirable thing. But it is not proper, as the Sardar himself has admitted, to provide it in the justiciable fundamental rights. The only place which it can occupy is in the annals of High Court Judgments. Any number of judgements exist which have declared that anything done by reason of fraud or coercion is illegal. Therefore it is not justiciable and cannot be justified by any sensible person in the world. I strongly advocate that it is not necessary to put it in any of the lists of Fundamental Rights.28

The President of the Assembly put to vote the motion ‘that this should not be put in the Fundamental Rights’ and the motion was adopted. Christian missions carried the day. Hindus were trying to lock the stable after the horse had been stolen.

The October 1947 issue of The National Christian Council Review published a letter written by Austin David. It deserves to be reproduced in full:

It is a matter of great relief and rejoicing for all citizens of the Indian Dominion that the Constituent Assembly has decided to drop the Clause 17, and the amendment of Mr. K. M. Munshi which sought to restrict the freedom of conscience in the matter of profession, practice and propagation of religion: Because of this proposed amendment there was a great uneasiness among the Christians all over India. All sorts of fears and doubts were arising in the minds of the people as to the future of minorities. The Church in India is first of all beholden to the Christian members of the Constituent Assembly for their tactful and firm handling of the matter, and to all the members of the Constituent Assembly for their just and fair treatment towards its citizens in the matter of religious liberty.

We also owe a very heavy debt of gratitude to the National Christian Council of India, in sending a mission to Delhi, consisting of Bishop S. K. Mondol, Vice-President, and Mr. E. C. Bhatty, one of the secretaries. Their visit to Delhi greatly helped in mobilising opinion among the Christian members of the Constituent Assembly in favour of working as a team, and in making them feel that the Christian community expected them to present its case with force, and firmness. There were certain matters on which compromise could not be made. We also understand that they met some Cabinet ministers, and other leaders whom they asked for a greater measure of religious liberty. Both of these gentlemen deserve our gratitude. They are both known for their calm and tactful handling of things, and they have once again proved their ability. We are convinced that in the future we require as our leaders, men with true Christian character, with no guile and self-seeking, working for the good of the Church. We should therefore thank the N.C.C. for choosing these two gentlemen this time.29

The same issue of the Review published news from Korea which spelled out what Christians meant by ‘religious liberty’:

Rev. C. C. Amendt, a Methodist missionary who recently returned to Seoul from the United States, reports about the Church’s possibilities in Korea. He has made a number of ‘jeep trips’ into the countryside and found a hearty welcome from the Koreans and their Churches. “We are thankful for the progress that has been made,” he said, “for the crowded churches and for the unparalleled opportunity before us today. This past week I did what I never thought I or anyone else would ever do in Korea – I preached in a Shinto shrine, now a Christian church. Not long ago I preached in a thriving new church that bad formerly been a Japanese Buddhist temple. The great Eastern union service for all denominations, Koreans and American G.L’S, was on the site of the most famous Shinto shrine in the land- a symbol of the complete change and religious freedom that bas come to the Korean people. The challenge of such a time of fluidity and change is beyond the power of words to express.30

Clause 13 came up before the Constituent Assembly once again on December 3, 1948. It figured as Article 19 in the Draft Constitution and read as under:

19.(1) Subject to public order, morality and health and to the other provisions of the Part, all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion.

(2) Nothing in this article shall affect the operation of any existing law or preclude the State from making any law

(a) regulating or restricting any economic, financial, political or other secular activity which may be associated with religious practice;

(b) for social welfare and reform or for throwing open Hindu religious institutions of a public character to any class or section of Hindus.31

The Vice-President of the Constituent Assembly presented Article 19 as a ‘motion before the House’ and went over the amendments ‘one by one.’ Some parts of the debate that followed are being reproduced below:

Prof. K. T. Shah: Mr. Vice-President, I beg to move-

That the following proviso be added to Clause (1) of article 19:

Provided that no propaganda in favour of any one religion which is calculated to result in change of faith by the individuals affected, shall be allowed in any school or college or other educational institution, in any hospital or asylum, or in any other place or institution where persons of a tender age, or of unsound mind or body are liable to be exposed to undue influence from their teachers, nurses or physicians, keepers or guardians or any other person set in authority above them, and which is maintained wholly or partially from public revenues, or is in any way aided or protected by the Government of the Union, or of any State or public authority therein.

Sir, the main article gives the right of freedom of propaganda. I have no quarrel with the right that anybody professing any particular form of belief should be at liberty, in this Liberal State, to place the benefits or beauties of his particular form of worship before others. My only condition – and the amendment tries to incorporate that – is that this freedom should not be abused, as it has been in the past. In places or institutions, where people of tender age or those suffering from any bodily or mental infirmity, are exposed to undue influence, they are liable to be influenced more by the personality of those in authority above them than by the inherent advantages and unquestionable reasoning in favour of a particular religion, and as such result in conversion. That is not a genuine change of opinion, but is the result of undue influence that ought to be stopped.32

Shri Lokanath Misra (Orissa : General): I would have been very glad if I had a chance to speak generally on article 19 and not move this amendment. To my mind, if article 13 of this Draft Constitution is a charter of liberty, article 19 is a Charter for Hindu enslavement. I do really feel that this is the most disgraceful article, the blackest part of the Draft Constitution. I beg to submit that I have considered and studied all the constitutional precedents and have not found anywhere any mention of the word ‘propaganda’ as a Fundamental Right, relating to religion.

Sir, we have declared the state to be a Secular State. For obvious and for good reasons we have so declared. Does it not mean that we have nothing to do with any religion? You know that propagation of religion brought India into this unfortunate state and India had to be divided into Pakistan and India. If Islam had not come to impose its will on this land, India would have been a perfectly secular State and a homogenous state. There would have been no question of partition. Therefore, we have rightly tabooed religion. And now to say that as a fundamental right everybody has a right to propagate his religion is not right. Do we want to say that we want one religion other than Hinduism and that religion has not yet taken sufficient root in the soil of India and do we taboo all religions? Why do you make it a Secular State? The reason may be that religion is not necessary or it may be that religion is necessary, but as India has many religions, Hinduism, Christianity, Islam and Sikhism, we cannot decide which one to accept. Therefore let us have no religion. No. That cannot be. If you accept religion, you must accept Hinduism as it is practised by an overwhelming majority of the people of India.

Mr. Vice-President: We shall resume the discussion on Monday. A request has come to me from my Muslim brethren that as today is Friday we should now adjourn. I think we ought to show consideration to them and adjourn now to meet again on Monday at Ten of the clock.

Mr. Mishra may then deliver the rest of his speech.33

The debate was resumed on December 6, 1948.

Shri Lokanath Misra: Sir, it has been repeated to our cars that ours is a secular State. I accepted this secularism in the sense that our State shall remain unconcerned with religion, and I thought that the secular State of partitioned India was the maximum of generosity of a Hindu dominated territory for its non-Hindu population. I did not of course know what exactly this secularism meant and how far the State intends to cover the life and manners of our people. To my mind life cannot be compartmentalised and yet I reconciled myself to the new cry.

The Honourable Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru (United Provinces: General): Sir, are manuscripts allowed to be read in this House?

Mr. Vice-President: Ordinarily I do not allow manuscripts to be read, but if a Member feels that he cannot otherwise do full justice to the subject on hand, I allow him to read from his manuscript.

The Honourable Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru: May I know what is the subject?34

Mr. Vice-President: Mr. Lokanath Misra is moving an amendment to article 19. I ask the indulgence of the House because Mr. Lokanath Misra represents a particular point of view which I hold should be given expression to in this House.

Shri Lokanath Misra: Gradually it seems to me that our ‘a secular State’ is a slippery phrase, a device to bypass the ancient culture of the land.

The absurdity of this position is now manifest in articles 19 to 22 of the Draft Constitution. Do we really believe that religion can be divorced from life, or is it our belief that in the midst of many religions we cannot decide which one to accept? If religion is beyond the ken of our State, let us clearly say so and delete all reference to rights relating to religion. If we find it necessary, let us be brave enough and say what it should be.

But this unjust generosity of tabooing religion and yet making propagation of religion a fundamental right is somewhat uncanny and dangerous. Justice demands that the ancient faith and culture of the land should be given a fair deal, if not restored to its legitimate place after a thousand years of suppression.

We have no quarrel with Christ or Mohammad or what they saw and said. We have all respect for them. To my mind, Vedic culture excludes nothing. Every philosophy and culture has its place but now the cry of religion is a dangerous cry. It denominates, it divides and encamps people to warring ways. In the present context what can this word ‘propagation’ in article 19 mean? It can only mean paving the way for the complete annihilation of Hindu culture, the Hindu way of life and manners. Islam has declared its hostility to Hindu thought. Christianity has worked out the policy of peaceful penetration by the back-door on the outskirts of our social life. This is because Hinduism did not accept barricades for its protection. Hinduism is just an integrated vision and a philosophy of life and cosmos, expressed in organised society to live that philosophy in peace and amity. But Hindu generosity has been misused and politics has overrun Hindu culture. Today, religion in India serves no higher purpose than collecting ignorance, poverty and ambition under a banner that flies for fanaticism. The aim is political, for in the modern world all is power-politics and the inner man is lost in the dust. Let everybody live as he thinks best but let him not try to swell his number to demand the spoils of political warfare. Let us not raise the question of communal minorities any more. It is a device to swallow the majority in the long run. This is intolerable and unjust.

Indeed in no constitution of the world right to propagate religion is a fundamental right and justiciable. The Irish Free State Constitution recognises special position of the faith professed by the great majority of the citizens. We in India are shy of such recognition. U.S.S.R. gives freedom of religious worship and freedom of anti-religious propaganda. Our Constitution gives the right even to propagate religion but does not give the right to any anti-religious propaganda. if people should propagate their religion, let them do so. Only I crave, let not the Constitution put it as a fundamental right and encourage it. Fundamental rights are inalienable and once they are admitted, it will create bad blood. I therefore say, let us say nothing about rights relating to religion. Religion will take care of itself. Drop the word ‘propagate’ in article 19 at least. Civilisation is going headlong to the melting pot. Let us beware and try to survive.35

Mr. Vice-President: The clause is now open for discussion.36

Pandit Lakshmi Kanta Maitra (West Bengal: General): Sir, I feel myself called upon to put in a few words to explain the general implication of this article so as to remove some of the misconceptions that have arisen in the minds of some of my honourable Friends over it.

This article 19 of the Draft Constitution confers on all persons the right to profess, practise and propagate any religion they like but this right has been circumscribed by certain conditions which the State would be free to impose in the interests of public morality, public order and public health and also in so far as the right conferred here does not conflict in any way with the other provisions elaborated under this part of the Constitution. Some of my Friends argued that this right ought not to be permitted in this Draft Constitution for the simple reason that we have declared time and again that this is going to be a secular State and as such practice of religion should not be permitted as a fundamental right. It has been further argued that by conferring the additional right to propagate a particular faith or religion the door is opened for all manner of troubles and conflicts which would eventually paralyse the normal life of the State. I would say at once that this conception of a secular State is wholly wrong. By secular State, as I understand it, is meant that the State is not going to make any discrimination whatsoever on the ground of religion or community against any person professing any particular form of religious faith. This means in essence that no particular religion in the State will receive any State patronage whatsoever. The State is not going to establish, patronise or endow any particular religion to the exclusion of or in preference to others and that no citizen in the State will have any preferential treatment or will be discriminated against simply on the ground that he professed a particular form of religion. In other words in the affairs of the State the professing of any particular religion will not be taken into consideration at all. This I consider to be the essence of a secular state. At the same time we must be very careful to see that in this land of ours we do not deny to anybody the-right not only to profess or practise but also to propagate any particular religion. Mr. Vice-President, this glorious land of ours is nothing if it does not stand for lofty religious and spiritual concepts and ideals. India would not be occupying any place of honour on this globe if she had not reached that spiritual height which she did in her glorious past. Therefore I feel that the Constitution has rightly provided for this not only as a right but also as a fundamental right. In the exercise of this fundamental right every community inhabiting this State professing any religion will have equal right and equal facilities to do whatever it likes in accordance with its religion provided it does not clash with the conditions laid down here.

The great Swami Vivekananda used to say that India is respected, and revered all over the world because of her rich spiritual heritage. The Western world strong with all the strength of a materialistic civilisation, rich with the acquisitions of science, having a dominating position in the world, is poor today because of its utter lack of spiritual treasure. And here does India step in. India has to impart this rich spiritual treasure, this message of hers to the West, if we are to do that, if we are to educate the world, if we are to remove the doubts and misconceptions and the colossal ignorance that prevails in the world about India’s culture and heritage, this right must be inherent, – the right to profess and propagate her religious faith must be conceded.37

I have listened to some of the speeches that have been made in connection with this article. it has been objected to and it has been said that the right to propagate should be taken away. One honourable Member suggested that if we conceded the right, the bloody upheaval which this country has witnessed of late would again recur with full vehemence in the near future. I do not at all share that pessimism of my honourable Friend. Apparently my honourable Friend has not given special consideration to the conditions that are imposed in this article. The power that this article imposes upon the State to intervene on certain occasions completely demolishes all chances of that kind of cataclysm which we have seen.

It has also been said, and I am very sorry that an observation was made by an honourable Member of considerable eminence and standing, that the Christian community in its proselytising zeal has sometimes transgressed its limits and has done acts which can never be justified. An instance of Bombay was cited in defence of his position.

Mr. Vice-President: I am afraid you are making a mistake there. No particular instance, so far as I remember, was cited.

Pandit Lakshmi Kanta Maitra: Anyway I believe that was at the back of his mind. I am sorry if I have not got at it correctly. I want to say that a good deal of injustice will be done to the great Christian community in India if we go away with that impression. The Indian Christian community happens to be the most inoffensive community in the whole of India. That is my personal opinion and I have never known anybody contesting that proposition. This Indian Christian community, so far as I am aware, spends to the tune of nearly Rs. 2 crores every year for educational uplift, medical relief and for sanitation, public health and rest of it. Look at the numerous educational institutions, dispensaries and hospitals they have been running so effectively and efficiently catering to all classes and communities. If this vast amount of Rs. 2 crores were utilised by this Christian community for purposes of seeking converts, then the Indian Christian community which comprises only 70 millions would have gone up to.

Mr. Vice-President: You are mistaken there: it is only 7 millions.

Mr. Lakshmi Kanta Maitra: I beg your pardon. From 7 millions it would have gone to 70 millions. But the point Mr. Vice-President, is not in the figures. The point of my whole contention is that the Christian community in India has not done that proselytising work with that amount of zeal and frenzy with which some of our friends have associated it. I am anxious to remove that misconception. Sir, I feel that every single community in India should be given this right to propagate its own religion. Even in a secular state I believe there is necessity for religion. We are passing through an era of absolute irreligion. Why is there so much vice or corruption in every stratum of society? Because we have forgotten the sense of values of things which our forefathers had inculcated. We do not at all care in these days, for all these glorious traditions of ours with the result that everybody now acts in his own way, and justice, fairness, good sense and honesty have all gone to the wilderness. If we are to restore our sense of values which we have held dear, it is of the utmost importance that we should be able to propagate what we honestly feel and believe in. Propagation does not necessarily mean seeking converts by force of arms, by the sword, or by coercion. But why should obstacles stand in the way if by exposition, illustration and persuasion you could convey your own religious faith to others? I do not see any harm in it. And I do feel that this would be the very essence of our fundamental rights, the right to profess and practise any particular religion. Therefore this right should not be taken away, in my opinion. If in this country the different religious faiths would go on expounding their religious tenets and doctrines, then probably a good deal of misconception prevailing in the minds of people about different religions would be removed, and probably a stage would be reached when by mutual understanding we could avoid in future all manner of conflicts that arise in the name of religion. From that point of view I am convinced that the word propagate should be there and should not be deleted. In this connection I think I may remind the House that the whole matter was discussed in the Advisory Council and it was passed there. As such I do not see any reason why we should now go back on that. Sir, the clause as it is has my wholehearted support, and I feel that with the amendments moved by my honourable Friend Dr. Ambedkar and Shrimati Durgabai this clause should stand as part of the Constitution.38

Shri L. Krishnaswami Bharathi (Madras: General): Mr. Vice-President, after the eloquent and elaborate speech of my respected Friend Pandit Maitra I thought it was quite unnecessar .y on my part to participate in the discussion. I fully agree with him that the word ‘propagate’ is intended only for the Christian community. But I think it is absolutely necessary, in the present context of circumstances, that we must educate our people on religious tenets and doctrines. So far as my experience goes, the Christian community have not transgressed their limits of legitimate propagation of religious view, and on the whole they have done very well indeed. It is for other communities to emulate them and propagate their own religions as well. This word is generally understood as if it referred to only one particular religion, namely, Christianity alone. As we read this clause, it is a right given to all sectional religions; and it is well known that after all, all religions have one objective and if it is properly understood by the masses, they will come to know that all religions are one and the same. It is all God, though under different names. Therefore this word ought to be there. This right ought to be there. The different communities may well carry on propaganda or propagate their religion and what it stands for. It is not to be understood that when one propagates his religion he should cry down other religions. It is not the spirit of any religion to cry down another religion. Therefore this is absolutely necessary and essential.

Again, it is not at all inconsistent with the secular nature of the State. After all, the State does not interfere with it. Religion will be there. It is a personal affair and the State as such does not side with one religion or another. It tolerates all religions. Its citizens have their own religion and its communities have their own religions. And I have no doubt whatever, seeing from past history, that there will not be any quarrel on this account. It was only yesterday His Excellency the Governor-General Sri Rajaji spoke on this matter. It is very necessary that we should show tolerance. That is the spirit of all religions. To say that some religious people should not do propaganda or propagate their views is to show intolerance on our part.

Let me also, in this connection, remind the House that the matter was thoroughly discussed at all stages in the Minorities Committee, and they came to the conclusion that this great Christian community which is willing and ready to assimilate itself with the general community, which does not want reservation or other special privileges should be allowed to propagate its religion along with other religious communities in India.

Sir, on this occasion I may also mention that you, Mr. Vice-President,39 are willing to give up reservation of seats in the Assembly and the local Legislatures of Madras and Bombay, and have been good enough to give notice of an amendment to delete the clause giving reservation to the Christian community. That is the way in which this community, which has been thoroughly nationalist in its outlook has been moving. Therefore, in good grace, the majority community should allow this privilege for the minority communities and have it for themselves as well. I think I can speak on this point with a certain amount of assurance that the majority community is perfectly willing to allow this right. I am therefore strongly in favour of the retention of the word ‘propagate’ in this clause.40

The Honourable Shri K. Santhanam: Mr. Vice-President, Sir, I stand here to support this article. This article has to be read with article 13; article 13 has already assured freedom of speech and expression and the right to form association or unions. The above rights include the right of religious speech and expression and the right to form religious association or unions. Therefore article 19 is really not so much an article on religious freedom, but an article on what I may call religious toleration. It is not so much the words ‘All persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion’ that are important. What are important are the governing words with which the article begins, viz., ‘Subject to public order, morality and health’.

Hitherto it was thought in this country that anything in the name of religion must have the right to unrestricted practice and propagation. But we are now in the new Constitution restricting the right only to that right which is consistent with public order, morality and health. The full implications of this qualification are not easy to discover. Naturally, they will grow with the growing social and moral conscience of the people. For instance, I do not know if for a considerable period of time the people of India will think that purdah is consistent with the health of the people. Similarly, there are many institutions of Hindu religion which the future conscience of the Hindu community will consider as inconsistent with morality.

Sir, some discussion has taken place on the word ‘propagate’. After all propagation is merely freedom of expression. I would like to point out that the word ‘convert’ is not there. Mass conversion was a part of the activities of the Christian Missionaries in this country and great objection has been taken by the people to that. Those who drafted this Constitution have taken care to see that no unlimited right of conversion has been given. People have freedom of conscience and, if any man is converted voluntarily owing to freedom of conscience, then well and good. No restrictions can be placed against it. But if any attempt is made by one religious community or another to have mass conversions through undue influence either by money or by other means, the State has every right to regulate such activity. Therefore I submit to you that this article, as it is, is not so much an article ensuring freedom but toleration – toleration for all, irrespective of the religious practice or profession. And this toleration is subject to public order, morality and health.

Therefore this article has been very carefully drafted and qualifications are as important as the right it confers. Therefore I think the article as it stands is entitled to our wholehearted support.41

Shri Rohini Kumar Chaudhari (Assam: General): Sir, I am grateful to you for giving me this opportunity for making a few observations on this very important article. It struck me as very peculiar that, although as many as four articles have dealt with religion, there is no mention of God anywhere in the whole Chapter. At first I considered it extremely strange, but after going through the matter more carefully, I found every justification for it. From the way in which the world is progressing, there is very little doubt that a time will come when we may be in a position to dispense with God altogether. That has happened in other more advanced countries and therefore I believe, in order to make room for such a state of things, the word ‘God’ has been purposely avoided in dealing with religion itself.

Another point is the propagation of any religion. I have no objection to the propagation of any religion. If anyone thinks that his religion is something ennobling and it is his duty to ask others to follow that religion, he is welcome to do so. But what I would object to is that there is no provision in this Constitution to prevent the so-called propagandist of his religion from throwing mud at some other religion. For instance, Sir, in the past we remember how missionaries went round the country and described Sri Krishna in the most abominable terms. They would bring up particular activities of Sri Krishna and say, “Look here, this is your Lord Krishna and this is his conduct.” We also remember with great pain how they used to decry the worship of the idols and call them names. Sir, in the new Constitution we must make it perfectly clear that no such thing will be tolerated. It is not necessary in the course of propagating any particular religion to throw mud at other religions, to decry them and bring out their unsatisfactory features according to the particular supporters of a particular religion. There should be a provision in the law, in the Constitution itself that such conduct will be met with exemplary punishment.42

Shri T. T. Krishnamachari (Madras: General): Mr. Vice President Sir, I am here to support the motion before the House, viz., to approve of article 19. Many speakers before me have emphasised the various provisions of this particular article and the background in regard to the framing of this article. What I would like to stress is this: Sir, we are not concerned here with compromises arrived at between the various communities. We are not really concerned with whether some advantage might be derived from the wording of this article later on by certain communities in regard to the furtherance of their own religious beliefs and practices, but I think emphasis should be laid on the fact that a new government and the new Constitution have to take things as they are, and unless the status quo has something which offends all ideas of decency, all ideas of equity and all ideas of justice, its continuance has to be provided for in the Constitution so that people who are coming under the regime of a new government may feel that the change is not a change for the worse. In achieving that particular object, I think this article has gone a long way.

Sir, objection has been taken to the inclusion of the word ‘propagate’ along with the word ‘profess and practise’ in the matter of religion. Sir, it does not mean that this right to propagate one’s religion is given to any particular community or to people who follow any particular religion. It is perfectly open to the Hindus and the Arya Samajists to carry on their Suddhi propaganda as it is open to the Christians, the Muslims, the Jains and the Buddhists and to every other religionist, so long as he does it subject to public order, morality and the other conditions that have to be observed in any civilised government. So, it is not a question of taking away anybody’s rights. It is a question of conferring these rights on all the citizens and seeing that these rights are exercised in a manner which will not upset the economy of the country, which will not create disorder and which will not create undue conflict in the minds of the people. That, I feel, is the point that has to be stressed in regard to this particular article. Sir, I know as a person who had studied for about fourteen years in Christian institutions that no attempt had been made to convert me from my own faith and to practise Christianity. I am very well aware of the influences that Christianity has brought to bear upon our own ideals and our own outlook, and I am not prepared to say here that they should be prevented from propagating their religion. I would ask the House to look at the facts so far as the history of this type of conversion is concerned. It depends upon the way in which certain religionists and certain communities treat their less fortunate brethren. The fact that many people in this country have embraced Christianity is due partly to the status that it gave to them. Why should we forget that particular fact? An untouchable who became a Christian became an equal in every matter along with the high-caste Hindu, and if we remove the need to obtain that particular advantage that he might probably get – it is untouchability a very important advantage, apart from the fact that he has faith in the religion itself – well, the incentive for anybody to become a Christian will not probably exist. I have no doubt, Sir, we have come to a stage when it does not matter to what religion a man belongs, it does not matter to what sub-sect or community in a particular religion a man belongs, he will be equal in the eyes of law and in society and in regard to the exercise of all rights that are given to those who are more fortunately placed. So I feel that any undue influence that might be brought to bear on people to change their religion or any other extraneous consideration for discarding their own faith in any particular religion and accepting another faith will no longer exist; and in the circumstances, I think it is only fair that we should take the status quo as it is in regard to religion and put it into our Fundamental Rights, giving the same right to every religionist, as I said before, to propagate his religion and to convert people, if he felt that it is a thing that he has to do and that it is a thing for which he has been born and that it is his duty towards his God and his community.

Subject to the overriding considerations of the maintenance of the integrity of the State and the well-being of the people, – these conditions are satisfied by this article – I feel that if the followers of any religion want to subtract from the concessions given herein in any way, they are not only doing injustice to the possibility of integration of all communities into one nation in the future but also doing injustice to their own religion and to their own community. Sir, I support the article as it is.43

Shri K. M. Munshi (Bombay: General): I have only a few words to say with regard to the objections taken to the word ‘propagate’. Many honourable Members have spoken before me placing the point of view that they need not be afraid of the word ‘propagate’ in this particular article. When we object to this word, we think in terms of the old regime. In the old regime, the Christian missionaries, particularly those who were British were at an advantage. But since 1938, I know, in my part of Bombay, the influence which was derived from their political influence and power has disappeared. If I may mention a fact within my knowledge, in 1937 when the first Congress Ministry came into power in Bombay, the Christian missionaries who till then had great influence with the Collectors of the Districts and through their influence acquired converts, lost it and since then whatever conversions take place in that part of the country are only the result of persuasion and not because of material advantages offered to them. In the present set up that we are now creating under this Constitution, there is a secular State. There is no particular advantage to a member of one community over another; nor is there any political advantage by increasing one’s fold. In those circumstances, the word ‘propagate’ cannot possibly have dangerous implications, which some of the Members think that it has.

Moreover, I was a party from the very beginning to the compromise with the minorities, which ultimately led to many of these clauses being inserted in the Constitution and I know it was on this word that the Indian Christian community laid the greatest emphasis, not because they wanted to convert people aggressively, but because the word ‘propagate’ was a fundamental part of their tenet. Even if the word were not there, I am sure, under the freedom of speech which the Constitution guarantees it–will be open to any religious community to persuade other people to join their faith. So long as religion is religion, conversion by free exercise of the conscience has to be recognised. The word ‘propagate’ in this clause is nothing very much out of the way as some people think, nor is it fraught with dangerous consequences. Speaking frankly, whatever its results we ought to respect the compromise. The Minorities Committee the year before the last performed a great achievement by having a unanimous vote on almost every provision of its report.

This unanimity created an atmosphere of harmony and confidence in the majority community. Therefore, the word ‘propagate’ should be maintained in this article in order that the compromise so laudably achieved by the Minority Committee should not be disturbed. That is all that I want to submit.44

Having become aware of the inclinations of the High Command, Congress members of the Constituent Assembly were quick to fall in line. Article 19 was ‘added to the Constitution’ with two minor amendments accepted by Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, who was piloting the Constitution in the Constituent Assembly. The right of Christians ‘to propagate religion’ had become their ‘right to convert other people’. And the ‘people’ included minor children.

After a revision of the draft articles, Article 19 became Article 25 of the Constitution. And so it stays today. The right of Christians to convert non-Christians including minors stands fully protected.

Christians heaved a sigh of relief after months of hectic activity. Their spontaneous reaction was, “Pandit Nehru proves himself a gentleman.”45 Pandit Laxmi Kant Maitra, Mr. Krishnaswamy Bharati and Mr. T. T. Krishnamachari were congratulated for ‘their noble and courageous defence of the rights of a minority.’46

Meanwhile, on August 15, 1948, exactly one year after attainment of independence India had ‘recognized the unique position of the Catholic Church by establishing diplomatic relations with the Vatican.’ While presenting his credentials to the Pope, ‘Mr. Dhirajlal Desai, the first Indian Ambassador to the Holy See, testified to India’s great reverence for Christ.’ India, according to Desai, was a new state ‘created by the sacrifices of the people, guided by one who sought to mould his life according to the message of Christ’ and who had ‘affirmed the oneness of God and the greatness of the religious ideal proclaimed in the Sermon on the Mount.47

Mahatma Gandhi was dead by that time. His views on Christ, Christianity, One God of Biblical theologies and the Sermon on the Mount, however, had been expressed not so long ago. Moreover, those views had been compiled in a book, Christian Missions: Their Place in India, published in 1941. One wonders whether Mr. Desai or those in the External Affairs Ministry who prepared his brief, were aware of those views or tried to find them out before presenting Mahatma Gandhi to the Pope as a follower of Christ. No one thought of presenting him as a great Hindu. The praises he had heaped on Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount had come in handy as nails in his coffin.

Footnotes:

1 Constituent Assembly Debates, Volume III, 1947, p. 488.

2 Ibid., p. 489.

3 Ibid., p. 489-490.

4 Ibid., p.490.

5 Ibid., pp. 490-91.

6 Procedural details have been left out.

7 Ibid., pp. 491-92.

8 Ibid., p. 492. English translation of speech in Hindustani.

9 Ibid., p. 493.

10 Ibid., p. 494.

11 Ibid., p. 495.

12 Ibid,. pp. 496-97

13 Ibid., pp. 497-99. English translation of speech in Hindustani.

14 Ibid., pp. 499-500. English translation of speech in Hindustani.

15 Ibid., pp. 500-501. English translation of speech in Hindustani.

16 Ibid., pp. 501-502.

17 Ibid., pp. 502-503.

18 Ibid., p. 503.

19 The National Christian Council Review, June-July 1947, pp. 273-74.

20 Ibid., p. 278.

21 Ibid., August 1947, p. 343

22 Ibid., p. 351.

23 Ibid., pp. 352-54. Emphasis in source.

24 Constituent Assembly Debates, Volume 5, 1947, p. 363.

25 Ibid., p. 364.

26 Ibid., p. 364. English translation of speech in Hindustani.

27 Ibid., pp, 364-65.

28 Ibid., p. 365.

29 The National Christian Council Review, October 1947, p. 477.

30 Ibid., p. 512. Emphasis added.

31 B. Shiva Rao, op.cit., p. 264

32 Constituent Assembly Debates, Volume 7, p. 820.

33 Ibid., p. 822.

34 Pandit Nehru knew very well what the subject was. But he had his own way of showing contempt for those who stood by Hindu Dharma.

35 Ibid., pp. 823-24.

36 Ibid., p. 831.

37 Lakshmi Kanta Maitra gave great strength to the Christian case. He was a well known scholar and Sanskrit Pandit. One can he sure that he knew Vivekananda’s position vis-a-vis Christian missions. Swamiji had accused them of spreading calculated misinformation about India’s culture and heritage. But the Pandit had his own reasons – reasons which we cannot point out in print – for twisting Vivekananda in order to serve the Christian cause.

38 Ibid., pp. 831-33.

39 The Vice-President, Mr. H.C. Mookerjee, was, a Christian.

40 Ibid., pp. 833-34.

41 Ibid., pp. 834-35.

42 Ibid., pp. 835-36.

43 Ibid., pp. 836-37. The business empire which T. T. Krishnamachari built in the pre-and post-independence period had and has been helping Christian missions in various ways – for reasons which cannot be discussed here.

44 Ibid., pp. 437-38.

45 Felix Alfred Plattner, The Catholic Church in India: Yesterday and Today, Allahabad, 1964, p. 1. The book was first published in German from Mainz, West Germany, in 1963.

46 Ibid., p. 6.

47 Ibid., p. 8.

(To be continued…)


Source

Book: History of Hindu-Christian Encounters (AD 304 to 1996) (Chapter 1 & 2)
Author: Sita Ram Goel
Originally published:1989 (2nd edition 1996)
Published by: Voice of India
Available on: Amazon


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