A beautiful paper, Notes and excerpts from the paper:The Secular State and Religious Conﬂict: Liberal Neutrality and the Indian Case of Pluralism by S. N. Balagangadhara and Jakob De RooverOn What Gandhi ji said about Conversions:
Gandhi ji was against conversions, according to him:
Religious Foundational Differences and Rivalries:
If I had the power and could legislate, I should certainly stop all proselytizing . . . In Hindu households the advent of a missionary has meant the disruption of the family coming in the wake of change of dress, manners, language, food and drink.
A state wanting to be secular has to first ask the question, are all religions are of the same kind, but the following would tell us that Hinduism is not a 'religion' like other semitic one for the following reasons :
In the second of the multi-volume Historia Religionum, an Indian, talking about Hinduism, says that:
Hinduism can hardly be called a religion in the popularly understood sense of the term. Unlike most religions, Hinduism does not regard the concept of god as being central to it . . . Hinduism does not venerate any particular person as its sole prophet or as its founder. It does not . . . recognize any particular book as its absolutely authoritative scripture.
Similar thoughts occur in a handbook written by experts in the area, aimed at a more general public:
Hinduism displays few of the characteristics that are generally expected of a religion. It has no founder, nor is it prophetic. It is not credal, nor is any particular doctrine, dogma or practice held to be essential to it. It is not a system of theology, nor a single moral code, and the concept of god is not central to it. There is no specific scripture or work regarded as being uniquely authoritative and, finally, it is not sustained by an ecclesiastical organization. Thus it is difficult to categorize Hinduism as ‘religion' using normally accepted criteria. Historically to a Hindu, Semitic religions were never rival religions nor were the people of other religions were considered on religious lines nor did the hindus hold semitic religions to be false. This means that Hindus refused to accept falsity of either their religion or any other, while the converse was never true wrt to semitic religions.
For semitic religions, their religion revolves around truth of its doctrine, while hinduism holds that truth and falsity predicates don't apply to human traditions. And that there are no false Gods but different deities. Because of this self description, semitic religions hold that theirs is the true religion, while others are false and the God has a plan revealed through their religious doctrine alone. All other religious traditions are thus nothing but the attempts of the false god to deceive the gullible and to corrupt the true religion.Thus, the Semitic view has it that religion revolves around the crucial question of the truth and falsity of a set of doctrines. For Hindu followers, the traditions followed by humans is unsettled, they argue that, truth in human traditions does'nt make sense, a westerner might wear trousers and pants, that is his tradition and it doesn't make sense to call this tradition true or false, it need not hold true for all humans for example.
Therefore if one supports conversions, it only means that one is converting from something false to something true.Consequently, the secular state that allows for the possibility of conversion is compelled to choose between the following: (a) both the Hindu traditions and the Semitic religions are epistemic candidates with respect to truth and falsity; or (b) they are not.
The Semitic self-description contains a universal truth claim, which gives rise to a dynamic of proselytization. The pagan view, on the contrary, implies that every ‘religion' is a tradition—that is, a specific set of ancestral practices—characterising a human community. The traditions are upheld not because they contain some exclusive truth binding the believer to God, but because they bind a community together. Any attempt at interfering with the tradition of a community from the outside will be seen as illegitimate, since all traditions are part of the human quest for truth.On the question of Right to Proselytize and Non-interference, and Choices before the state:
Consider the situation in India. Say a citizen x is a Hindu who endorses the pagan claim that all traditions are part of a human quest for truth; while citizens y and z are a Muslim and a Christian respectively, who believe that their religion is the true revelation of (the biblical) God, while all other ‘traditions' are false religions. The value of non-interference is central to the tradition of citizen x and it is unethical for him to allow Muslims and Christians to interfere in the traditions of human communities. Thus, he opposes conversion. At the same time, the value of proselytisation is central to the religions of citizen y and z.
How can the Indian state be neutral with respect to the attitudes of the citizens x, y and z? Either the state agrees with citizen x that ‘religion' is a human quest, no ‘religion' could be false, and, therefore, bans conversion; or it will have to agree with citizens y and z that religions could be the revelation of (the biblical) God, therefore, some ‘religions' could be false, and thus allow for conversion. In other words, the secular state has to choose between the following two premises: (a) no religion could be false or (b) some religion(s) could be false. There is no neutral ground between these two logically exclusive premises.Let us now summarize the four choices the Indian secular state has to make. (a) The ‘Hindu traditions' and the ‘Semitic religions' are phenomena of the same kind, or they are not. (b) As such, they are religious rivals, or they are not. (c) As rivals, they compete with each other regarding truth or falsity, or they do not. (d) They can do that because some religion is false, or they cannot because no religion is false.
Choices of State Neutrality before India and on the question of is India secular:The post-independent Indian state implemented a series of reforms to ‘the Hindu religion and its law’, while it did not interfere with Islam and Christianity.24This suggests that some interpretation of ‘neutrality’ and ‘liberalism’ is at stake here.
Andrew Mason formulates an often made distinction between two kinds of state
neutrality as follows:
i. Neutrality of Justification: :Neutrality of justification requires that the state should not include the idea that one conception of the good is superior to another as part of its justification for pursuing a policy.
This option is not available because (a) the choices of the state are logically exclusive and (b) the state cannot play the agnostic.
ii. Neutrality of effect: In contrast, requires that the state should not do anything which promotes one conception of the good more than another, or if it does so, that it must seek to cancel or compensate for these differential effects.
John Rawls, suggests that neutrality might mean any of the following:
The framers of the Indian constitution took over the theory of the liberal state as it emerged in the West and tried to transplant it into the Indian soil. In the process, they also endorsed the theological claim that religion is an issue of truth. While such a stance makes sense in a culture where the problem of religious tolerance arises because of the competing truth claims of the Semitic religions, it does not in another cultural milieu where the pagan traditions are a living force. Consequently, the Indian state is subject to contradictory demands.
(1) that the state is to ensure for all citizens equal opportunity to advance any conception of the good they freely affirm; (2) that the state is not to do anything intended to favor or promote any particular comprehensive doctrine rather than another, or to give greater assistance to those who pursue it; (3) that the state is not to do anything that makes it more likely that individuals will accept any particular conception rather than another unless steps are taken to cancel, or to compensate for, the effects of policies that do this.
When it legislates in favour of religious conversion, the Indian state cannot live up to the first two principles of neutrality of aim. This policy promotes ‘the comprehensive doctrine' or ‘conception of the good' of the Semitic religions at the expense of the Hindu traditions by making the four choices that correspond to the Semitic view.
This leaves the third option of neutrality of effect. But this, Rawls claims, is ‘an impracticable aim', because
The Secular State is it possible? :
it is surely impossible for the basic structure of a just constitutional regime not to have important effects and influences on which comprehensive doctrines endure and gain adherents over time, and it is futile to try to counteract these effects and inﬂuences, or even to ascertain for political purposes how deep and pervasive they are. We must accept the facts of common-sense political sociology
The Indian state has made provisions in its constitution about the freedom of religion that includes the issue of conversion: Article 25 of the Indian Constitution states that ‘all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion’. This has generally been interpreted to mean the following: ‘. . . [I]n the context of secularism and religious pluralism conversions are legitimate, well within the Constitutional provisions, and entirely a personal affair of the citizens'.27 From this it follows that the Indian state has taken a stance on these issues. It endorses the belief hat religion revolves around doctrinal truth.
The secular state in India and elsewhere puts certain legal restrictions on religious conversion. Most importantly, it prohibits all forms of coercion in conversion. It says that religious conversion can take place by means of persuasion alone. But if one takes conversion from one religion to another to be a matter of persuasion, one must presuppose that religion involves the question of doctrinal truth.. One can be persuaded to convert only in so far as one accepts the truth of one religion as opposed to the falsity of another. Therefore, the secular state’s restriction on religious conversion again reveals it has taken a position on the question of whether or not religion is a matter of truth. It may not accept the truth claims of any one particular religion, but it does assume that religion revolves around truth claims. This conclusion shows that the failure to be neutral towards the issue of conversion is not speciﬁc to the Indian secularists. It is a general malfunction of the neutrality of the model of liberal secularism. Even when its theorists take a critical attitude towards proselytisation, they reproduce the theological assumption that religion revolves around truth and therefore support a principle of religious freedom that entails the freedom to convert.