RSS outfits are on a drive called ‘ghar wapsi’, literally, homecoming, to convert non-Hindus to Hinduism. There are tales of coercion and bribery associated with this campaign. First, the Constitution expressly allows the freedom to practise and ‘propagate’ any religion of one’s choice. If Islam and Christianity are allowed to proselytise actively, why not Hindu outfits? Second, the BJP is daring other parties, if they oppose the ghar wapsi drive, to support a Bill banning all conversions in India. Interpretations of the freedom to convert rule have said that conversions are fine, as long as they are voluntary and not performed through coercion or false inducements. The latter is a tricky concept: in India’s extremely unequal, stratified — and in case of Hinduism, casteist — society, the desire to escape these bonds might be inducement enough to migrate to another faith.
No party should agree to a law banning conversions, because such a law would be unconstitutional. Let anyone, guided by her conscience, convert voluntarily. The ghar wapsi campaign is problematic because it wants to straitjacket Indians of all faiths into a homogenised, puritanical, largely imagined version of Hinduism.
The myth that drives this reconversion drive is simple: through centuries, Muslim invaders supposedly drove Hindu subjects to Islam at the point of swords. This, as American historian Richard Eaton has proved, is historically false. The largest concentrations of Muslims on the subcontinent were in Punjab, the Northwestern provinces, Bengal and along the coastline from Gujarat to Kerala. All were areas where Muslim rule was tenuous, or non-existent. The north Indian heartland, where Islamic rule was concentrated, had the fewest number of Muslims. The best explanation for this, he suggests, is exposure to trade and commerce with the larger Islamic world: for Bengal and the coastal areas via maritime routes; for Punjab and the northwest, via connections overland to Central Asia and beyond. Let people convert in good faith, let there be no coercion — and no law to ban conversion
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Economic Times