Gandhi minced no words when criticising Christian missionaries – Apurv Agrawal

Baptising new converts in Andhra Pradesh.

Apurv Agarwal“If I had the power and could legislate, I should stop all proselytising. … I hold that proselytisation under the cloak of humanitarian work is unhealthy to say the least. It is most resented by people here. Religion after all is a deeply personal thing. It touches the heart.” – M.K. Gandhi

India’s Freedom of Religion Acts or anti-conversion laws are state-level statutes that have been enacted to regulate religious conversions.

The laws are in force in six out of twenty-nine states: Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, and Himachal Pradesh. While there are some variations between the state laws, they are very similar in their content and structure.

All of the laws seek to prevent any person from converting or attempting to convert, either directly or otherwise, any person through “forcible” or “fraudulent” means, or by “allurement” or “inducement.” However, the anti-conversion laws in Rajasthan and Arunachal Pradesh appear to exclude re-conversions to “native” or “original” faiths from their prohibitions.

Penalties for breaching the laws can range from monetary fines to imprisonment, with punishments ranging from one to three years of imprisonment and fines from 5,000 to 50,000 Indian rupees.

Some of the laws provide for stiffer penalties if women, children, or members of scheduled castes or schedule tribes (SC/ST), are being converted.

There is no such thing as a ‘Right to Convert’ – Supreme Court of India

The Supreme Court in Rev. Stainislaus v. State of Madhya Pradesh examined whether the right to practice and propagate one’s religion also included the right to convert. The Court upheld the validity of the earliest anti-conversion statutes: the Madhya Pradesh Dharma Swatantraya Adhiniyam, 1968, and the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act, 1967. As summarised by Professor Laura Jenkins, the Court found that “restrictions on efforts to convert are constitutional because such efforts impinge on ‘freedom of conscience’ and “public order’.” In one of its conclusions the Court held that propagation only indicated persuasion/exposition without coercion and that the right to propagate did not include the right to convert any person. This holding was summed up by the Court as follows:

“… It has to be remembered that Article 25(1) guarantees ‘freedom of conscience’ to every citizen, and not merely to the followers of one particular religion, and that, in turn, postulates that there is no fundamental right to convert another person to one’s own religion because if a person purposely undertakes the conversion of another person to his religion, as distinguished from his effort to transmit or spread the tenets of his religion, that would impinge on the ‘freedom of conscience’ guaranteed to all the citizens of the country alike. …”

“… It has to be appreciated that the freedom of religion enshrined in the Article [25] is not guaranteed in respect of one religion only, but covers all religions alike, and it can be properly enjoyed by a person if he exercises his right in a manner commensurate with the like freedom of persons following the other religions. What is freedom for one, is freedom for the other, in equal measure, and there can therefore be no such thing as a fundamental right to convert any person to one’s own religion. …”

The non-violent slamming of Christian missionaries by Mahatma Gandhi

• In the manner in which they (Christian missionaries) are working there would seem to be no room for them. Quite unconsciously they do harm to themselves and also to us. It is perhaps impertinent to say that they do harm to themselves, but quite pertinent to say that they do harm to us. They do harm to those amongst whom they work and those amongst whom they do not work, i.e., the harm is done to the whole of India. The more I study their activities the more sorry I become. It is a tragedy that such a thing should happen to the human family. (Gandhi in Harijan: December 12, 1936)

• I regard Jesus as a great teacher of humanity, but I do not regard him as the only begotten son of God. That epithet in its material interpretation is quite unacceptable. Metaphorically we are all sons of God, but for each of us there may be different sons of God in a special sense. Thus for me Chaitanya may be the only begotten son of God. God cannot be the exclusive Father and I cannot ascribe exclusive divinity to Jesus. (Gandhi in Harijan: June 3, 1937)

• It is my firm opinion that Europe (and the United States) does not represent the spirit of God or Christianity but the spirit of Satan. And Satan’s successes are the greatest when appears with the name of God on his lips. (Gandhi in Young India: September 8, 1920)

• I consider western Christianity in its practical working a negation of Christ’s Christianity. I cannot conceive Jesus, if he was living in flesh in our midst, approving of modern Christian organizations, public worship, or ministry. (Gandhi in Young India: September 22, 1921)

• Christianity in India has been inextricably mixed up for the last one hundred and fifty years with British rule. It appears to us as synonymous with materialistic civilisation and imperialistic exploitation by the stronger white races of the weaker races of the world. Its contribution to India has been, therefore, largely negative. (Gandhi in Young India: March 21, 1929)

• Only the other day a missionary descended on a famine area with money in his pocket, distributed it among the famine stricken, converted them to his fold, took charge of their temple, and demolished it. This is outrageous. (Gandhi in Harijan: November 5, 1937)

• It is impossible for me to reconcile myself to the idea of conversion after the style that goes on in India and elsewhere today. It is an error which is perhaps the greatest impediment to the world’s progress toward peace. Why should a Christian want to convert a Hindu to Christianity? Why should he not be satisfied if the Hindu is a good or godly man? (Gandhi in Harijan: January 30, 1937)

• I disbelieve in the conversion of one person by another. My effort should never to be to undermine another’s faith. This implies belief in the truth of all religions and, therefore, respect for them. It implies true humility. (Gandhi in Young India: April 23, 1931)

• I believe that there is no such thing as conversion from one faith to another in the accepted sense of the word. It is a highly personal matter for the individual and his God. I may not have any design upon my neighbour as to his faith which I must honour even as I honour my own. Having reverently studied the scriptures of the world I could no more think of asking a Christian or a Musalman, or a Parsi or a Jew to change his faith than I would think of changing my own. (Gandhi in Harijan: September 9, 1935)

• I am not interested in weaning you from Christianity and making you Hindu, and I do not relish your designs upon me, if you had any, to convert me to Christianity. I would also dispute your claim that Christianity is the only true religion. (Gandhi in Harijan: June 3, 1937)

• Conversion must not mean denationalisation. Conversion should mean a definite giving up of the evil of the old, adoption of all the good of the new and a scrupulous avoidance of everything evil in the new. Conversion, therefore, should mean a life of greater dedication to one’s country, greater surrender to God, greater self-purification. (Gandhi in Young India: August 20, 1925)

• As I wander about through the length and breadth of India I see many Christian Indians almost ashamed of their birth, certainly of their ancestral religion, and of their ancestral dress. The aping of Europeans by Anglo-Indians is bad enough, but the aping of them by Indian converts is a violence done to their country and, shall I say, even to their new religion. (Gandhi in Young India: August 8, 1925)

• I hold that proselytisation under the cloak of humanitarian work is unhealthy to say the least. It is most resented by people here. Religion after all is a deeply personal thing. It touches the heart.

• Why should I change my religion because the doctor who professes Christianity as his religion has cured me of some disease, or why should the doctor expect me to change whilst I am under his influence? (Gandhi in Young India: April 23, 1931)

• My fear is that though Christian friends nowadays do not say or admit it that Hindu religion is untrue, they must harbour in their breast that Hinduism is an error and that Christianity, as they believe it, is the only true religion. So far as one can understand the present (Christian) effort, it is to uproot Hinduism from her very foundation and replace it by another faith. (Gandhi in Harijan: March 13,1937)

• The first distinction I would like to make between your missionary work and mine is that while I am strengthening the faith of people, you (missionaries) are undermining it. (Gandhi in Young India: November 8, 1927)

• Conversion nowadays has become a matter of business, like any other. India (Hindus) is in no need of conversion of this kind. Conversion in the sense of self-purification, self-realisation is the crying need of the times. That however is never what is meant by proselytisation. To those who would convert India (Hindus), might it not be said, “Physician, heal yourself.” (Gandhi in Young India: April 23, 1931)

• When the missionary of another religion goes to them, he goes like a vendor of goods. He has no special spiritual merit that will distinguish him from those to whom he goes. He does however possess material goods which he promises to those who will come to his fold. (Gandhi in Harijan: April 3, 1937)

• If I had the power and could legislate, I should stop all proselytising. 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. (Gandhi in November 5, 1935)

• And whilst I hold by my own, I should hold others as dear as Hinduism. So we can only pray, if we are Hindus, not that a Christian should become a Hindu. But our innermost prayer should be a Hindu should be a better Hindu, a Muslim a better Muslim, a Christian a better Christian. (Gandhi in Young India: January 19, 1928)

Gandhi’s plea to those who left Hinduism

“If a person through fear, compulsion, starvation, or for material gain or consideration goes over to another faith, it is a misnomer to call it conversion. Most cases of conversion have been to my mind a false coin. I would therefore unhesitatingly re-admit to the Hindu fold all such repentants without much ado. If a man comes back to the original branch, he deserves to be welcomed in so far as he may deem to have erred, he has sufficiently purged himself of it when he repents his error and retraces his steps.” (Collected Works: Vol. 66, pp. 163-164) – TIFPOST, 25 December 2017

Apurv Agarwal is a software engineer and is an office-bearer of Dr. Subramanian Swamy’s Virat Hindustan Sangam. He is also associated with Agniveer.

See also

  1. Spirit of Satan at Work in India
  2. Mahatma Gandhi on Conversion

M.K. Gandhi Quote