We have all heard of minority rights. These are the rights conferred on minority groups to help them preserve their unique culture, which may, in the absence of such rights, not withstand the pressure to conform to the majority’s standards. Say you are a part of a community of a hundred thousand people and speak a language that no other community in your country speaks. The chances are that over a few generations, there will be hardly anyone, even within your community, who speaks that language. Because other than its inherent cultural value, it offers no advantage or incentive to its speakers.
Enter minority rights – and now your community is legally empowered to prevent your unique language from going extinct. So far, so good. Although minority rights are theoretically dependent on how minorities are defined, they are mostly invoked to protect religious minorities in practice. Minority rights were first discussed in a major way at the historic international conference, Congress of Vienna in 1814. The conference was held in the aftermath of a series of wars in Europe, and its purpose was to restore the balance of power in a volatile Europe. One of the important points of discussion was the safety of the Jewish minority living amongst a hostile majority of Christians. This is significant because it offers a peek into the underlying logic of minority rights,… the question of tolerance. The Abrahamic worldview can be summed up in four words – My way or highway.
Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – are monotheistic and exclusivist and intolerant and do not allow for a diversity of thought and practice. There is little room for straying from the path laid out in their holy book in their scheme of things, and though multiple sects are interpreting the scripture in different ways, they all agree that only their own interpretation is correct. In other words, each sect considers the other as wholly invalid. For example, Sunnis and Shias have been at each other’s throats since the inception of Islam, what to say of their attitude towards other religions like Hinduism or Taoism, which they believe are the works of the devil. Thus, minority rights are a critical safeguard employed to prevent the religious intolerance enjoined in Abrahamic scriptures from spilling over to public life, especially in the cosmopolitan globalized world where people of different religious beliefs live and work together like never before in human history. But how does this work out in India, which has been a pluralistic society for millennia?
Let us see what the term ‘Freedom of Religion’ has come to signify. There is an international consensus that it means the freedom to “practice and propagate” one’s religion, including the right to proselytize or convert. But for Hindus, who form the majority of India’s population, the right to convert is meaningless because, unlike Christianity and Islam, Hindu Dharma accepts diversity. In fact, Hindus had provided asylum to persecuted minorities like Jews and Parsis centuries before the term minority rights were coined. Hindus are under no religious obligation to go around converting Muslims and Christians, and therefore, non-Hindus are free to practice their faith, as they have been for centuries.
The evangelist’s freedom to convert is the asymmetric pressure on Hindus to get converted, where the pressure is of all kinds – monetary incentive, employment, propaganda, and so on. Much like the tiger’s right to eat translates to the deer’s risk of getting eaten up. The concept of Freedom of Religion has been weaponized into the right of missionaries and maulvis to convert vulnerable Hindus into Christianity and Islam, aided by a massive influx of funds from foreign countries to the tune of thousands of crores.
These funds are overtly assigned for “humanitarian” purposes but, in reality, are used for religious causes, including terrorism, riots, and other subtler forms of social engineering. The greatest irony is that India is the only country in the world with a separate Ministry of Minority Affairs, which primarily takes care of the interests of religious groups that are actually a global majority. Whereas Hindus are a stateless global minority under relentless assault, their sacred land has been converted into a battleground for the ongoing clash of civilizations. An unstable India is a weak India, and a weak India is the end of Hindu civilization. Minority rights, anyone?