Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Anti-Conversion Laws - An Alternative

In the last 3 posts Offstumpd examined the Evangelical Project in Orissa, a Case against Proselytization based on an analysis of International Laws and Gandhi’s views on Proselytism.

Anti-Conversion Laws have been in force in some Indian states for a while now, while some recent ones have run into political resistance. Offstumped has always maintained that these legislative measures are poorly drafted and not effective measures to check the social damage of proselytism.

In this short post Offstumped proposes an alternative to such laws that is consistent with Offstumped’s postulation of “Flat World Hindutva - Individual Freedom and Socio Economic Choices” as well as Offstumped’s exposition of Dharma and Individual Liberties.

To better appreciate this alternative it is important for all those on both sides of this debate to recognize the distinction between Conversions and Proselytism. While there may be an argument against restrictions on conversions on the grounds of individual freedom the same arguments cannot be made of proselytism for Proselytism is about unsolicited interventions in Private matters in Public spaces.

This unsolicited intervention has 2 dimensions to it. Those public spaces that are shared and truly public such as street corners, billboards, public facilities and those public spaces that are private and not shared such as your doorstep. The use of the first is anyway subject to local laws for religious and non-religious purpose.

Let us examine the second. This unsolicited intervention at people’s doorstep is no different from tele-marketing or spam. When taken in the context of poor rural hamlets where the houses have neoither doors, nor compound walls or any other typical deterrents the social pressure on the targets of proselytism is that much higher and overbearing.

Hence Offstumped is proposing a “National Do not Proselytize Registry” as an alternative to Anti-Conversion Laws. Such a registry could be operated in a manner similar to current “Do Not Call Registries” and Anti-Spam Laws that seek to regulate unsolicited interventions. Individual Families should be able to register with the Registry to obtain legal protection to prohibit and prevent Proselytisers from imposing themselves at their doorsteps.

The Registry could also be open to smaller rural communities that are governed by Panchayats to also register their a community as a whole with the Registry to keep Proselytizers if the Panchayat arrives at a democratic consensus on the same, subject to periodic review.

Any Evangelical NGO that wishes to engage in Proselytism should be required to register with this Registry like the Tele-Marketers while being held to mandatory disclosures that they has not violated the privacy of individuals or communities by attempting to Proselytize.

This method of checking Proselytism could be a better and more effective measure as opposed to anti-conversion laws as it is premised in the rights of Individualto privacy and the rights of local communities to make socio-economic choices. It would also raise the costs for Proselytisers while sending a loud and clear message from communities where they are unwelcome.

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