Arun Shourie's Column, March 4, Part 1/3
'BUT WE HAVE NO RIGHT?'
The Observer, March 4, 1994
BUT have we no rights to proclaim our faith, to preach Gospel? You are the
editor of such a large news-paper. You express your views on issues. Do we not
have the same right? It was Bishop George Anathil, of Indore, the Chairman
of the Commission for Proclamation of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India.
It so happens that I am not the editor but the twice-dismissed editor of
such a large newspaper! And I would certainly stand for the right of every
Bishop to speak his mind, assuming of course that he too would not cavil at
In any case, no one is suggesting that missionaries should not have the
right to proclaim the truth as they see it. I was talking about conversions -
about how these did not harmonise with the doctrine the Church has now acknowl-
edged, namely the possibility of salvation in every religion; about the need
to heed the great anger which is building up against conversions; and about
the need therefore to join in giving the State and the courts the authority
to examine whether force or fraud or allurement have been used in any case to
secure the conversion.
The analogy which Bishop Anathil drew between the right to free speech and
the right to practice and propagate one's religion is actually a good one: the
freedom of religion guaranteed by Article 25 and 26 should be subject to the
same sort of restrictions as is a secular right like freedom of speech. Article
19(2) lists the grounds on which the right of speech can be regulated. These
are much wider than the grounds mentioned in Article 25 and 26.
Furthermore, the courts have, to take one instance, specifically held
that the adminsitration of 'minority institutions' under Article 29 and 30
cannot be regulated on the ground that the regulation is required in the
In a secular country why should the right to practise and propagate reli-
gion not be subjected to the same sorts of perimeters as apply to other secular
rights? In a country the very survival of which is in such jeopardy, in a
country the territorial integrity of which is being assailed by murderous
campaigns stoked in the name of religion, why should the right to practice
and propagate religion not be subject to the requirements of the security of
the State, to the national interest?
It is for these reasons that in A Secular Agenda I have urged that the right
to religion must be placed, exactly as Bishop Anathil's analogy suggests, at
par with, and no higher than other secular rights.
"I have a comment, more than a question," Bishop Patrick D'Souza of Varanasi
observed. "I know that Gandhiji said those things about the motives behind
missionary services etc. But schools and hospitals set up by Christian
missionaries are everywhere. If there was any truth in this view, all of India
would by now have become Chirstian. This has not happened. Is not the accusa-
tion itself motivated?"
My own experience would point to what you say: I studied at a college set
by Christian missionaries, no one ever tried to convert me. But against that,
and against what you say, we must put what the missionaries who talked to
Gandhiji acknowledged. They too were truthful, and they stated in terms that
the ultimate motive, or inspiration if you like, which informed such work was
to convert people to Christianity. Even more important, there are the basic
premises of the Church to which I drew attention earlier: that there is one
Truth, that it has been revealed to the one and only Son of God, that it is
in one Book etc. A missionary cannot but subscribe to these premises. And one
who who subscribes to them cannot but have one overriding objective: to save
souls by bringing them into the Church.
.....to be continued...