16. Debate in the Constituent Assembly
Debate in the Constituent Assembly
On April 29, 1947, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel presented to the Constituent Assembly the interim report on Fundamental Rights as submitted by the Advisory Committee. Clause 13 and 17 among the �Rights relating to religion� generated a debate which took place on May I. It was started by Shri K. M. Munshi who moved an amendment for rewording Clause 17 to read as follows: �Any conversion from one religion to another of any person brought about by fraud, coercion or undue influence or of a minor under the age of 18 shall not be recognised by law.� Explaining the amendment with regard to �conversion of a minor�, Shri Munshi said, �As a matter of fact, it was proposed by one or the other Committee in some form or other, and it is the general feeling that this clause should be restored in this form, - any conversion of a minor under the age of 18 shall not be recognised by law. The only effect of non-recognition by law would mean that even though a person is converted by fraud or coercion or undue influence or be converted during his minority he will still in law be deemed to continue to belong to the old religion and his legal rights will remain unaffected by reason of his conversion. The idea behind this proposal is that very often, if there are conversions by fraud or undue influence or during minority, certain changes in the legal status take place, certain rights are lost. This will have only this effect that the rights will remain exactly the same as at the moment a person was converted by fraud or coercion or undue influence and in the case of a minor at the moment of conversion.�
Mr. Frank Anthony rose to move an amendment to Shri Munshi�s amendment. He said he wanted to add the words �except when the parents or surviving parents have been converted and the child does not choose to adhere to its original faith.� In support of his suggestion, he said, �I agree that conversion under undue influence, conversion by coercion or conversion by fraud should not be recognised by law. I am only interested in this question, Sir, on principle. My community does not propagate. We do not convert, nor are we converted. But I do appreciate how deeply, how passionately millions of Christians feel on this right to propagate their religion. I want to congratulate the major party for having, in spite of its contentious character, retained the words �right to practise and propagate their religion�. Having done that, I say that after giving with one hand this principal fundamental of Christian rights, do not take it away by this proviso, �or of a minor under the age of 18�. I say that if you have this particular provision, or if you place an absolute embargo on the conversion of a minor, you will place an embargo absolutely on the right of conversion. You will virtually take away the right to convert. Because, what will happen? Not a single adult who is a parent, however deeply he may feel, however deeply he may be convinced, will ever adopt Christianity, because, by this clause you will be cutting off that parent from his children. By this clause you will say, although the parents may be converted to Christianity, the children shall not be brought up by these parents in the faith of the parents. You will be cutting at the root of family life. I say it is contrary to the ordinary concepts of natural law and justice. You may have your prejudices against conversion; you may have your prejudices against propagation. But once having allowed it, I plead with you not to cut at the root of family life. This is a right which is conceded in every part of the world, the right of parents to bring up their children in the faith that the parents want them to pursue. You have your safeguards. You have provided that conversion by undue influence, conversion by fraud, conversion by coercion shall not be recognised by law. You have even given discretion to the child provided it has attained the age of discretion to adhere to its original faith. The wording is �and the child does not choose to adhere to its original faith�. If both the parents are converted and if they want their children to be brought up as Christians, if these children have reached the age of discretion and say that in spite of the conversion of their parents, they do not want to be brought up as Christians, under the restriction which I have introduced, they will not be brought up in the Christian faith.�
He was clear in his mind that the �right to propagate� meant or included in its ambit the �right to convert� not only adults but minors as well. �I realise,� he concluded, �how deeply certain sections of this House feel on this right. But I do ask you, having once conceded the right to propagate, to concede this in consonance with the principles of family law and in consonance with the principles of natural law and justice.�
The next member to speak was Shri R. P. Thakur. He said, �Sir, I am a member of Depressed Classes. This clause of the Fundamental Rights is very important from the standpoint of my community. You know well, Sir, that the victims of these religious conversions are ordinarily from the Depressed Classes. The preachers of other religions approach these classes of people, take advantage of their ignorance, extend all sorts of temptations and ultimately convert them. I want to know from Mr. Munshi whether �fraud� covers all these things. If it does not cover, I should ask Mr. Munshi to re-draft this clause so that fraud of this nature might not be practised on these depressed classes. I should certainly call these �fraud�.�
The rest of the debate is being reproduced below:
The Hon�ble Rev. J. J. M. Nichols-Roy (Assam: General): Mr. President, Sir, it appears to me that the clause as it came out of the Advisory Committee is sufficient and should not be amended at all. The amendment seeks to prevent a minor, who is of twelve years of age, or thirteen years of age, up to eighteen years of age from exercising his own conscience. The age limit may be quite right in law. But to think that a youth under the age of eighteen does not have a conscience before God and, therefore, he cannot express his belief is wrong. That side of the question must be appropriately considered. There is a spiritual side in conversion which ought to be taken notice of by this House. Conversion does not mean only that a man changes his form of religion from one religion to another, or adopts a different name of religion, such as, a Hindu becomes a Christian. But there is spiritual aspect of conversion, that is, the connection of the soul of man with God, which must not be overlooked by this House. I know there are those who change their religion being influenced by material considerations, but there are others who are converted being under the influence of spiritual power. When a boy feels that he is called by God to adopt a different faith, no law should prevent him from doing that. The consciences of those youths who want to change their religion and adopt another religion from a spiritual standpoint should not be prevented from allowing these youths to exercise their right to change their legal status and change their religion. We know, Sir, in the history of Christianity, there have been youths, and I know personally, there have been many youths, who have been converted to Christianity, who are ready to die for their conviction and who are ready to lose everything. I myself was converted when I was about fifteen years old when I heard the voice of God calling me. I was ready to lose anything on earth. I was ready to suffer death even. I did not care for anything save to obey and follow the voice of God in my soul. Why should a youth who has such a call of God be prevented by law from changing his religion and calling himself by another name when he feels before God that he is influenced by the Spirit of God to do that an is ready even to sacrifice his life for that. This part of the amendment about minors is absolutely wrong when we consider it from the spiritual standpoint. From the standpoint of conscience I consider that it is altogether wrong not to allow a youth from the age of twelve to eighteen to exercise his own conscience before God. It will oppress the consciences of the youths who want to exercise their religious faiths before God. Therefore, I am against this amendment as it is. The youths should be allowed to follow their own conviction if they have any, and should not be forced to do anything against their own conviction. Why should the law not allow them if they themselves do not care for their former legal status? Why should they be prevented from changing their religion? Why should their consciences be oppressed? That is a very important point, Sir, to be considered by this House. This freedom I consider to be a Fundamental Right of the youths. No law should be made which will work against good spiritual forces. India, especially, is a country of religions, a country where there is religious freedom. If this amendment is carried in this House, it will only mean that in making a law to prevent the evil forces our minds lose sight of the real religious freedom which the youths of this land ought to have. Therefore, I am against this very principle of forcing the youths by not allowing them to exercise their religious conviction according to their consciences. I would suggest, Sir, that if in the amendment moved by Mr. Anthony the words �or save when the minor himself wants to change his religion� are included, then I do not object to this amendment. I am against any conversion by undue influence or by fraud or coercion. When we make a law against all these evils we should be careful to see that law does not oppress the consciences of the youths who also need freedom.
The Hon�ble Shri Purushottamdas Tandon (United Provinces: General): Mr. President, I am greatly surprised at the speeches delivered here by our Christian brethren. Some of them have said that in this Assembly we have admitted the right of every one to propagate his religion and to convert from one religion to another. We Congressmen deem it very improper to convert from one religion to another or to take part in such activities and we are not in favour of this. In our opinion it is absolutely futile to be keen on converting others to one�s faith. But it is only at the request of some persons, whom we want to keep with us in our national endeavour that we accepted this. Now it is said that they have a right to convert young children to their faith. What is this? Really this surprises me very much. You can convert a child below eighteen by convincing and persuading him but he is a child of immature sense and legally and morally speaking this conversion can never be considered valid. If a boy of eighteen executes a transfer deed in favour of a man for his hut worth only Rs. 100/- the transaction is considered unlawful. But our brethren come forward and say that the boy has enough sense to change his religion. That the value of religion is even less than that of a hut worth one hundred rupees. It is proper that a boy should be allowed to formally change his religion only when he attains maturity.
One of my brethren has said that we are taking away with the left hand what we gave the Christians with our right hand. Had we not given them the right to convert the young ones along with the conversion of their parents they would have been justified in their statement. What we gave them with our right hand is that they have a right to convert others by an appeal to reason and after honestly changing their views and outlook. The three words, �coercion�, �fraud� and �undue influence� are included as provisos and are meant to cover the cases of adult converts. These words are not applicable to converts of immature age. Their conversion is coercion and undue influence under all circumstance. How can the young ones change their religion? They have not the sense to understand the teachings of your scriptures. If they change their religion it is only under some influence and this influence is not fair. If a Christian keeps a young Hindu boy with him and treats him kindly the boy may like to live with him. We are not preventing this. But the boy can change his religion legally only on attaining maturity. If parents are converts why should it be necessary that their children should also change their religion? If they are under the influence of their parents they can change their religion on maturity. This is my submission.
Mr C. E. Gibbon (C. P. & Berar: General): It is quite
The Hon�ble Shri Purushottamdas Tandon: I am speaking, Sir, as a Congressman. I say that the majority of Congressmen do not like this process of making converts (interruption), but in order to carry our Christian friends with us�
Mr. C. E. Gibbon: I do not think, Sir, that the Speaker is competent to speak for all Congressmen.
Some Hon�ble Members: Why not?
Shri Balkrishna Sharma (United Provinces: General): The Speaker has every right to speak on behalf of most of the Congressmen. He is most certainly entitled to do so.
The Hon�ble Shri Purushottamdas Tandon: I know Congressmen more than my friend over there. I know their feelings more intimately than probably he has ever had an opportunity of doing, and I know that most Congressmen are opposed to this idea of �propagation�. But we agreed to keep the word �propagate� out of regard for our Christian friends. But now to ask us to agree to minors also being converted is, I think, Sir, going too far. It is possible that parents having a number of children are converted into some other faith but why should it be necessary that all these children who do not understand religion should be treated as converts? I submit it is not at all necessary. The law of guardianship will see about it. Guardians can be appointed to look after these children, and when they grow up, if they feel that Christianity is a form of religion which appeals to their minds they will he at liberty to embrace it. That much to my Christian friends.
I understand, Sir, that it is possible that difficulties may be raised by some lawyers. What is the legal difficulty about this matter? The ordinary law of guardianship will see about this. When we say that minors cannot be converted, that implies that when parents go to another faith and they have a number of children to look after the law of the country will take care of those children. You can always enact a law of guardianship and you can, if necessary, add to the laws which at present exist on the subject so that in such cases the minors should be taken care of. I do not, Sir, therefore, see that there is any legal difficulty in the way of the amendment which Mr. Munshi has proposed being accepted. I heartily support Mr. Munshi�s amendment�
Shri Ranmath Goenka: My point of order is, Sir, that under clause 13 which we have passed, all persons are equally entitled of freedom of conscience. �All persons� must necessarily include at least those persons who have attained the: age of discretion. It is not necessary that they must attain the age of 18 before developing conscience. It may be at the age of twelve, fifteen, sixteen or seventeen. If we pass clause 17 and prescribe the age of 18, it will be inconsistent with clause 13 which we have just now passed.
Shri Ananthasayanam Ayyangar: Sir, I want to oppose this point of order raised by Mr. Goenka in a different way. The mover of this point of order said he has no objection to persons who are of the age of discretion being converted. But the age of discretion has not been defined anywhere. It is open to this Assembly to say that the age of discretion is eighteen. Therefore, there is really no point of order, or there is no point in this point order.
Mr. D. N. Datta: Mr. President, Sir, I feel that the whole of this clause 17 should go to the Fundamental Rights Committee and I would be glad if the whole clause could be deleted. I know the reasons for enumerating this under the Fundamental Rights, because we are now working under the present setting. But as it is going to be enumerated in the Fundamental Rights, it has to be seen, Sir, whether the amendment of Mr. Anthony should be accepted. Mr. Anthony wants that the option of the minors to join the religion they like on attaining majority, should be retained, just as the choice is given to Mohammadan children given in marriage during minority to repudiate the marriage on attaining majority, - what we call the option of puberty. A similar right he intends to be given to the children of the parents who have been converted. On attaining majority the child shall have the right of declaring whether he adheres to his original faith or whether he will join the faith of his parents who were converted. I for myself, do not see any reason, why that right should not be given to the child on attaining majority. On attaining, he may declare, if he was a Hindu, that he will adhere to Hinduism or if his parents have taken to Christianity, whether he will become a Christian. I think this right should not be taken away. It should be given and how it is to be given, it is for the Drafting Committee, or better still, that it should go to the Fundamental Rights Committee to determine whether this clause should remain or how it should remain. And before I go, I must say that the remark of Mr. Tandon that the majority of the Congress members are not in favour of introducing the word �propagate� in clause 13 is not correct. This matter was discussed yesterday and the majority were in favour of keeping the word �propagate�. Therefore, the contention of Mr. Tandon is not correct.
Rev. Jerome D�Souza (Madras: General): Mr. President, I regret, Sir, that this discussion should have taken a turn which makes it look as if it is almost exclusively a minority problem, and as a result of that, degree of heat has been imported into it which most of us regret very much indeed. Sir, when this matter was discussed at the committee stage, quite independently from the question of minorities, legal difficulties with which the question bristles were brought home to us by men of the highest authority like Sir Alladi. As far as the minority rights are concerned, I can only say this, that the way in which clause 13 has been handled by this House is so reassuring and so encouraging to the minorities that we have no reason at all to quarrel or to ask for stronger assurances. That attitude must provoke on the part of the minorities an equally trustful attitude which I hope will inspire future relations and future discussions. I appreciate Mr. Anthony�s stand that this is a question of wider nature of principle and family authority. I assure you I am speaking from that point of view. This question of conversion of minors may affect not only majorities in relation to minorities but the minorities among themselves, - one Christian group in relation to Another Christian group, as Catholics and Protestants, and so on. But among all sections, in regard to the authority of a man over his family, I think certain rights should be assured and must be part of fundamental rights. We have nothing in these fundamental rights that safeguards or encourages or strengthens the family in an explicit way, and indeed I do not think this is necessary at this stage, because that is not a justiciable right. There are certain constructions where the wish of the State to protect and encourage the family is explicitly declared. I hope in the second part, among these fundamental rights which are not justiciable, some such declaration or approbation of the institution and rights and privileges associated with family life will be introduced. It may perhaps be thought that in our country such a declaration is not necessary because among us the strongest family feeling is universal; we have not merely individual or unitary families but we have also joint families. I believe the discussion on this point has been partly influenced by that background of the joint family system. I am sure that Tandonji if I may be permitted to refer to him by name, when he was speaking of the minor child of converted parents, was thinking really in terms of the joint family where there are people ready to take over and bring up such children� But we are legislating for all sections of our people, for those also who are not in joint families but in unitary families. We are legislating for them, and therefore, some provisions must be made which, in the last analysis, will safeguard the authority of the parent, both parents or the surviving parent, in particular, as Mr. Anthony has said, in regard to nannies in the arms of their mothers. To take them away from the mother or father who are one with them, practically identified physically and juridically with them, is to introduce into our legislation an element which certainly weakens the concept of the authority and sanctity of the family. On this ground, as well as on the legal implications to which attention has been drawn, I mean difficulties in connection with the death, the marriage, the succession rights, of these minors, I oppose Mr. Munshi�s amendment as it stands. Take the question of marriage. Marriage is permitted before 18 years. Now Mr. Munshi has carefully explained that his amendment does not prevent the minor children from going with the parents. But if they are to be married, under what law, by the ceremonies of which religion will they be married? if they follow their conscience and the religion they have adopted, whether they be Hindus, Muslims, or Christians, the question of the validity of that marriage will come in. All this is bristling with legal and juridical difficulties, quite apart from those other considerations into which, as I said, I regret we have entered with undue warmth. While I want to support Mr. Anthony�s motion, I am more inclined to support the suggestion of the speaker who immediately preceded me, and ask the House to refer the entire clause back to the Advisory Committee so that the wording of it may be most carefully weighed. It can be brought back to this House just as we have decided, to bring back three or four other controversial matters. That is my suggestion and I would request�
Shri Algu Rai Shastri (U.P. : General): Mr. President, I stand here to support the amendment moved by Mr. Munshi. I believe that by accepting the amendment we shall be doing justice to those minors who have perforce to enter the fold of the religion which their parents embrace out of their greed. This practice is like the one prevailing in the transactions of transfer of land and which is that �trees go with the land�. It is on some such basis that the minor children who do not understand what change of religion or coercion or religious practices mean, have to leave their old faith along with their parents. This evil practice has a very bad effect on the strength of our population. It is proper for us that we, who are framing the charts of Fundamental Rights, should safeguard their interests and save them from such automatic conversion. The dynamic conditions of our society make it more important than ever that we should incorporate such a provision in our Constitution as will prevent such practices. Such minors on attaining majority often regret that they were made to change their religion, improperly. Wherever the Europeans or the white races of Europe, who rule practically over the whole world, have gone, they have, as Missionaries. A study of the �Prosperous India� by Digby shows that �cross was followed by the sword.� The missionary was followed by the batons, the swords and the guns. It was in this way that they employed coercion for spreading their religion and for extending their Empire. At the same time, they put economic and political pressure on the indigenous tribes and consolidated the foundations of their dominion. We want such an amendment in this clause of Fundamental Rights that a person who wants to change his religion should be able to do so only after he is convinced through cool deliberation that the new religion is more satisfactory to him than the old one. For example it is only when I am convinced that Sikhism is preferable to Hinduism, that I should be able to change my religion. This right I believe we have. But no one should change religion out of greed and temptation. When the followers of one religion employ sword and guns to attack a family consisting of a few members the latter have no option but to accept the religion of the aggressors in order to save their lives. Such a conversion should be considered void and ineffective because it has been brought about through coercion and undue influence. In view of such conditions which exist today, conversion brought about through temptation and allurement is, in fact, not a conversion in the real sense of the term. I have a personal experience extending over a period of 24 years as to how the elders, of the family are induced through prospects of the financial gain to change their religion and also with them the children are taken over to the fold of the new religion. It appears as if some are taking the land physically in his possession and the helpless trees go with it to the new master.
One particular part of the country has been declared as an �Excluded Area�, so that a particular sect alone may carry on its propaganda therein. Another area has been reserved for the �Criminal tribes�. Similarly, other areas have also been reserved wherein missionaries alone can carry on their activities. In Chattisgarh and other similar forest areas there are tribes which follow primitive faiths. There the Hindu missionaries cannot carry on their activities. These are called �Excluded and partially Excluded Areas�, and no religious propaganda can be carried on in these areas except by the missionaries. This was the baneful policy of the Government. We should now be delivered from this policy o religious discrimination. In his book �Census of India-1930� Dewton writes that the Christian population of Assam has increased 300 times and attributes this increase to certain evils in Hindu Society. It is these evils which gave other missionaries opportunities to make conversions. In his book �Census of India-1911� Mr. S. Kamath has said that the missionaries of one particular religion are reducing the numbers of another by exploiting the evils of that group. They convert some influential persons by inducement and persuasion. The bitterness of the present is due to such activities. I am conversant with what Christian missions have done for the backward classes and I have also seen their work among such classes of people. I bow to them with respect for the way in which they (missionaries) have done their work. How gracious it would have been had they done it only for social service. I found that the dispute, if and when it occurs, between members of such castes as the sweepers or the chamars on the one side and the land-lords or some other influential persons on the other, has been exploited to create bitterness between them. No effort has been made to effect a compromise. This crooked policy has been adopted to bring about the conversion of the former. Similarly, people of other faiths have intensified and exploited our differences in order to increase their own numbers. The consequence is that the grown-up people in such castes as Bhangies and chamars are converted, and with them their children also go into the fold of the new religion. They should be affectionately asked to live as brothers. This is what has been taught by prophets, angels and leaders. But this is not being practised, today. We are in search of opportunities to indulge in underhand dealings. We go to people and tell them �you are in darkness; this is not the way for your salvation�. Thus every body can realise how all possible unfair means have been adopted to trample the majority community under feet. It is in this way that the Foreign bureaucracy has been working here, and has been creating vested interests in order to maintain its political strangle-hold over the people. If we cannot remove this foundation whom are we going to give the Fundamental Rights? TO these minors who are in the lap of their parents? If we permit minors to be transferred like trees on land with the newly embraced religion of their parents, we would be doing an injustice. Many fallacious arguments are offered to permit this. We must not be misled by these. We know that our failure to stop conversion under coercion would result in grave injustice. I have a right to change my religion. I believe in God. If I realise tomorrow that God is a farce and an aberration of human mind then I can become an atheist. If I think that the Hindu faith is false, I, with my grey hair, my fallen teeth, and ripe age, and my mature discretion can change my religion. But if my minor child repeats what I say, are you going to allow him also a right to change his religion (at that age)? Revered Purushottam Das Tandon has said in a very appealing manner that if a child transfers his immovable property worth Rs.100 the transaction is void. How unjust it is that if a minor changes his religion when his parents do so, his act is not void? It has an adverse effect on innocent children. This attempt to increase population has increased religious bitterness. The communal proportion has been� changed so that the British bureaucracy may retain its hold by a variation in the numbers of the different communities. I am saying all these things deliberately but I am not attacking any one community in particular. The sole interest of the government in the illusory web of census lies in seeing a balance in the population of the communities so that these may continue to quarrel among themselves and thereby strengthen its own rule. This amendment of Mr. Munshi is directed against such motives. Nothing can be better than that, and, therefore, I support it.
In my opinion this majority community should not oppress the minority. We respect and honour all and we give an opportunity to everybody to propagate his religion. Those who agree with you may be converted. But convert only those who can be legitimately converted. Improper conversions would not be right. You tempt the innocent little ones whom you take in your lap, by a suit of clothes, a piece of bread and a little toy and thus you ruin their lives. Later, they repent that they did not get an opportunity to have a religion of their choice. I, myself, am prepared to change my religion. But some one should argue with me and change my views and then convert me. Surely, I should have no right to change the religion of my children with me � specially children below a certain age. Those children are considered to be minors who are under teens, i.e., below eighteen.
Mr. H. V. Kamath: (Under teens includes nineteen.)
Shri Algu Rai Shastri: However if it is nineteen, it is all the better. Even if it is not possible they should extend minority by a year of grace. The age limit fixed for minors and majors should be adopted in religious matter as well. They say that there would be no incentive for conversion if people have to forego their children. I hear that in Japan the father has one religion and the child another. What does religion mean? Does the mother feed her baby so that the child�s religion might change? If the mother�s love is true she will surely feed her baby. Does the mother�s milk change the religion? We do not wish to snatch away the child from the mother�s lap, but we wish to give to the baby a right to record his (natal) religion in the report of the Census and any other government records, till he attains majority and declares his (new) religion. We give him this right in this amendment.. Parents need the company of their children. If they have changed their religion discreetly, let them educate their children. But the change in the religion of the children maybe considered (only) on their declaration at reaching majority. This is the purpose of this amendment and I support it, and I strongly oppose the view that this right should not be given to children.
Mr. Jagat Narain Lal (Bihar: General): Mr. President, I was expecting that after the acceptance of Clause 13, no representative of any minority of this House will have any ground for any objection. Clause 13 lays down that � �All persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion subject to public order, morality or health or to the other provisions of this Chapter.�
This goes to the �farthest limit�. If you look to any of the best of �modern world� Constitutions, you will find that nowhere has this right to propagate been conceded. if you look at Article 50 of the Swiss Confederation, it lays down that �the free exercise of religion is guaranteed within limits compatible with public order and morality.� It ends there. If you look at Article 44 sub-clause (2) 1 of the Irish Free State, you will find there � �Freedom of conscience and the free profession and practice of religion are subject to public order and morality, guaranteed to every citizen.�
If you refer to Article 124 of the Constitution of the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics you will find ��In order to ensure to citizens freedom of conscience, the Church in the U.S.S.R is separated from the State and the school from the Church. Freedom of religious worship and freedom of antireligious propaganda is recognised for all citizens.�
If I place before you all the clauses pertaining to �Freedom of professing religion�, it will tax your patience. I do not want to waste more of your time in this connection. My submission is that this House has gone to the farthest limit possible with regard to the minorities, knowing well the fact that there are a few minorities in this country whose right to carry on propaganda extends to the point of creating various difficulties. I do not want to go into its details. The previous speaker had referred to certain things in this connection. I submit that should be sufficient. Hon�ble Tandonji by his observation that on reading the mind of most of the Congress members of this House he did not want to keep �right to do propaganda� (on the statute), has rightly interpreted the mind of most of us. The fact is that we desire to make the minorities feel that the rights which they had been enjoying till now shall be allowed to continue within reasonable limits by the majority. We have no desire to curtail them in any way. But we do not concede the right to do propaganda. I want to appeal to those who profess to speak for the minorities not to press for too much. They must be satisfied with this much. It will be too much to press for more. That would be taking undue advantage of the generosity of the majority. That will be very regrettable. It is difficult, rather impossible, for us to go to that limit. I think that the amendment tabled by Mr. Munshi becomes essential if the right to propagate is conceded. The House should, therefore, accept it. Various arguments have been advanced in the House, and so I do not want to comment upon them again. With these words I support Mr. Munshi.
Dr. B. R. Ambedkar: Mr. President, Sir, I am sorry to say that I do not find myself in agreement with the amendment which has been moved by Mr. Munshi relating to the question of the conversion of minor children. The clause, as it stands probably gives the impression to the House that this question relating to the conversion of minors was not considered by the Fundamental Rights Committee or by the Minorities Sub Committee or by the Advisory Committee. I should like to assure the House that a good deal of consideration was bestowed on this question and every aspect was examined. It was after examining the whole question in all its aspects, and seeing the difficulties which came up, that the Advisory Committee came to the conclusion that they should adhere to the clause as it now stands.
Sir, the difficulty is so clear to my mind that I find no other course but to request Mr. Munshi to drop his amendment. With regard to children, there are three possible cases which can be visualised. First of all, there is the case of children with parents and guardians. There is the case of children who are orphans, who have no parents and no guardians in the legal sense of the word. Supposing you have this clause prohibiting the conversion of children below 18, what is going to be the position of children who are orphans? Are they not going to have any kind of religion? Are they not to have any religious instruction given to them by some one who happens to take a kindly interest in them? It seems to me that, if the clause as worded by Mr. Munshi was adopted, viz., that no child below the age of 18 shall be converted it would follow that children who are orphans, who have no legal guardians, cannot have any kind of religious instruction. I am sure that this is not the result which this House would be happy to contemplate. Therefore, such a class of subjects shall have to be excepted from the operation of the amendment proposed by Mr. Munshi.
Then, I come to the other class, viz., children with parents and guardians. They may fall into two categories. For the sake of clarity it might be desirable to consider their cases separately; the first is this: where children are converted with the knowledge and consent of their guardians and parents. The second case is that of children of parents who have become converts.
It does seem to me that there ought to be a prohibition upon the conversion of minor children with legal guardians, where the conversion takes place without the consent and knowledge of the legal guardians. That, I think, is a very legitimate proposition. No missionary who wants to convert a child which is under the lawful guardianship of some person, who according to the law of guardianship is entitled to regulate and control the religious faith of that particular child, ought to deprive that person or guardian of the right of having notice and having knowledge that the child is being converted to another faith. That, I think, is a simple proposition to which there can be no objection.
But when we come to the other case, viz., where parents are converted and we have to consider the case of their children, then I think we come across what I might say a very hard rock. If you are going to say that, although parents may be converted because they are majors and above the age of 18, minors below the age of 18, although they are their children, are not to be converted with the parents, the question that we have to consider is, what arrangement are we going to make with regard to the children? Suppose, a parent is converted to Christianity. Suppose a child of such a parent dies. The parent, having been brought up in the Christian faith, gives the Christian burial to the dead child. Is that act on the part of the parent in giving a Christian burial to the child, to be regarded as an offence in law? Take another case. Suppose a parent who has become converted has a daughter. He marries that daughter according to Christian rites. What is to be the consequence of that marriage? What is to be the effect of that marriage? Is that marriage legal or not legal?
If you do not want that the children should be converted, you have to make some other kind of law with regard to guardianship in order to prevent the parents from exercising their rights to influence and shape the religious life of their children. Sir, I would like to ask whether it would be possible for this House to accept that a child of five, for instance, ought to be separated from his parents merely because the parents have adopted Christianity, or some religion which was not originally theirs. I refer to these difficulties in order to show that it is these difficulties which faced the Fundamental Rights Committee, the Minorities Committee and the Advisory Committee and which led them to reject this proposition. It was, because we realised, that the acceptance of the proposition, namely, that a person shall not be converted below the age of 18, would lead to many disruptions, to so many evil consequences, that we thought it would be better to drop the whole thing altogether. (Hear, hear). The mere fact that we have made no such reference in Clause 17 of the Fundamental Rights does not in my judgement prevent the legislature when it becomes operative from making any law in order to regulate this matter. My submission, therefore, is that reference back of this clause to a committee for further consideration is not going to produce any better result. I have no objection to the matter being further examined by persons who feel differently about it, but I do like to say that all the three Committees have given their best attention to the subject. I have, therefore, come to the conclusion that having regard to all the circumstances of the case, the best way would be to drop the clause altogether. I have no objection to a provision being made that children who have legal and lawful guardians should not be converted without the knowledge and notice of the parents. That, I think, ought to suffice in the case.
The Hon�ble Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel: Sir, this is not a matter free from difficulties. There is no point in introducing any element of heat in this controversy. It is well known in this country that there are mass conversions, conversions by force, conversions by coercion and undue influence, and we cannot disguise the fact that children also have been converted, that children with parents have been converted and that orphans have been converted. Now, we need not go into all the reasons or the forces that led to these conversions, but if the facts are recognised, we who have to live in this country and find a solution to build up a nation, - we need not introduce any heat into this controversy to find a solution. What is the best thing to do under the circumstances? There may be different points of view. There are bound to be differences in the viewpoints of the different communities, but, as Dr. Ambedkar has said, this question has been considered in three Committees and yet we have not been able to find a solution acceptable to all. Let us make one more effort and not carry on this discussion, which will not satisfy everybody. Let this be therefore referred to the Advisory Committee. We shall give one more chance.
So Clause 17 was �referred back to the Advisory Committee.�
The indecision of the Constituent Assembly regarding Clause 17 provoked a strong Christian reaction. The National Christian Council Review of June-July 1947 published an �Open Letter� by L. Sen on the subject of �Religious Liberty� �All this talk,� said the writer, �about mass conversions being achieved by improper means is absolute balderdash� For several centuries Hindus have kept the so-called untouchables from their temples and still do so in most places. It is a curious mentality that excludes a homeless man from one�s own house and will not allow him to enter someone else�s� Mr. Gandhi�s great objection to conversion is that all religions are equally good. But Christianity does not think so. Mr. Gandhi will call this being intolerant. Very well, then, on his own showing Christianity which is intolerant must be inferior to Hinduism. He should, therefore, try to convert others to this nobler faith. Assuming, however, that Mr. Gandhi is right about the equality of all religions, why is he so anxious to prevent conversions by restrictive legislation? Is his conception of what is right or what is wrong only going to prevail in free India? Man has certain inalienable rights which not even a majority vote can take away. One of these rights is that he is free to choose his religion or society, without his motive being impugned by government, whether fascist, communist or democratic.�
The same issue commented on the proceedings of the Constituent Assembly. �At this session,� it said, �the all-important subject of the Fundamental Rights came up. Both in the Committee which presented the Report of Fundamental Rights, and on the floor of the Assembly a good deal of heated discussion took place. High tribute must be paid to the Committee for presenting a report which is marked by a true sense of justice and fair play. It is particularly gratifying to note that freedom of conscience - the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion, in the defence of which the National Christian Council has often expressed itself, has been recognized. The proposed amendment, relating to the right of conversion, however, according to which young people under the age of 18 will not be allowed to change their religion, seems to us to be an undue interference with that freedom which has been properly recognized in the report. If parents who are convinced of the need for a change of faith are prevented from doing so for strong reasons of affection and attachment to their children, then the freedom of conversion become a mockery. Other serious things might be said against the proposed amendment - and some of these have been said on the floor of the Assembly - but even this is enough to indicate the harm such an amendment is likely to do to the cause of religious liberty. We hope, therefore, that the clause relating to conversion will be allowed to remain as it is. The prevention of coercion and improper influence in the matter of conversion is right and necessary and has been amply provided for in the clause as it stands.�
The campaign was carried forward in the August issue of the monthly. It advised the Congress members not to take to the path of Nazi Germany. �The Congress members of the Constituent Assembly,� it said, �who wish to make everything Hindu from top to bottom should take a lesson from history. Hitler created a kind of nationalism which brought about the ruin of the German nation. His nationalism created a narrow outlook, and a sense of racial superiority which produced hatred for other nationals, and racial stocks. He gave to the German people those things and ideas which made the Germans feel distinctly different from others, i.e. the Swastika and a special salutation.�
The same issue of the Review carried an article, �Evangelism in Independent India�, by Rev. Stanley Jones. �In many quarters,� he wrote, �there is a good deal of pessimism. It reaches all the way from the simple Indian Christian who said to me: �I hear that when independence comes we Indian Christians will be forced to go back to the different castes from which we came�; to the Indian Bishop who is saying in the West that the Christians are going to undergo persecution in an independent India, an attempt will be made to wipe them out. Another expressed this pessimism when he said, �I hear all the missionaries are going to be sent out of India with the coming of independence.� A superintendent of police said to me, �Now that the British are going, are you missionaries going too?��
�Also there will be an attempt,� he continued, �here and there to make it impossible for men to accept the Christian faith. In about 17 of the Native States there have been enacted laws which make it necessary for one to appear before a magistrate when he wants to change his faith, and after police investigation the magistrate decides whether he can or not. That makes it almost impossible to change one�s faith. But that is in the Indian States. The place to watch is the Centre. For the attitudes of the Centre will gradually prevail in the States. It is the Centre that counts. In time all will have to fall in line with it.�
He related what he had discovered after meeting the top Congress leaders:
So I went to Sardar Patel, the strong man of the Congress, and asked him what part the missionaries can play, if any, in this new India. I told him that I was going to the Kodaikanal and the Landour Conventions which are important missionary centers and I wanted some word to bring to them from the highest sources. He very thoughtfully replied, �Let them go on as they have been going on - let them serve the suffering with their hospitals and dispensaries, educate the poor and give selfless service to the people. They can even carry on their propaganda in a peaceful manner. But let them not use mass conversions for political ends.� �If they do this then there is a place for them in the new India?� I asked. �Certainly,� he replied, �we want them to throw themselves in with India, identify themselves with the people and make India their home.� This was quite clear and straightforward and from the man who has to do with the question of who shall or shall not come into India, for he is the Home Member.
I then saw C. Rajgopalachariar and asked him the same question. His reply was that �While I agree that you have the right of conversion, I would suggest that in this crisis when religion is dividing us it would be a better part of your strategy to dim conversions and serve the people in various ways until the situation returns to a more normal state. If you are not willing to do that then I would suggest that instead of �Profess, practise and propagate� as suggested in the Committee, it should be �Belief, worship and preach�.� Then I further asked, �Will the missionaries be tolerated or welcomed as partners in this new India?� His reply was: �If they take some of the attitudes I suggest, then they will not only be welcomed, they will be welcomed with gratitude, for what they have done and will do.�
The third man I saw was Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad, the gracious head of Education in the Central Government. I asked him whether missionaries could be tolerated or welcomed as partners in the making of this new India. His reply was: �Do not use the word �tolerate�, there is no thought of that. You will be welcomed. There is no point at issue with the missionaries, except at one point: at the place of mass conversions where there is no real change of heart. We believe in the right of outer change where there is inner change, but when masses are brought over without any perceptible spiritual change then it arouses suspicions as to motives. But apart from that we have no point at issue. You will be welcomed gratefully for what you have done not only for India but for other parts of the world such as the Near East.�
The fourth man to whom I went was the man whom Gandhiji calls �the uncrowned king of India�, Jawaharlal Nehru, and when I asked him whether missionaries will be tolerated or welcomed as partners in the making of the new India his reply was: �I am not sure as to what is involved in being looked on as partners. But we will welcome anyone who throws himself into India and makes India his home.�
The fact of the matter is that the greatest hour of Christian opportunity has come in India. I have never had such a hearing in forty years as I have had in these last six months in India. The tensions have been let down. The combativeness against the Christian faith has been eased into an attitude of wistful yearning hoping that the Christians have some answer to the problems that confront us.
The Christian Church must now search its own heart and set its own house in order. It must cease from little irrelevancies and give itself to big things. The big thing in India is to present Christ in such a way as to become inescapable in the India to be. And the Church itself must be the message - it must show itself the embodiment of the new order�
Then every Christian must become a witness on fire with the love of Christ. The whole body of Christians must now be ablaze with the divine passion to serve and to save. It must consume us. For the crucial hour of the Church has now come in India.
The debate on Clause 17 was resumed on August 30, 1947:
The Honourable Sardar Vallabhbhai J. Patel: The Committee discussed this and there were several other suggestions made by the House and the clause was referred back to the Committee. After further consideration of this clause, which enunciates an obvious principle, the Committee came to the conclusion that it is not necessary to include this as a fundamental right. It is illegal under the present law and it can be illegal at any time.
Shri M. Ananthasayanam Ayyangar (Madras: General): It is unfortunate that religion is being utilised not for the purpose of saving one�s soul but for disintegrating society. Recently after the announcement by the Cabinet Mission and later on by the British Government, a number of conversions have taken place. It was said that power had been handed over to Provincial Governments who were in charge of these matters. This is dangerous. What has religion to do with a secular State? Our minorities are communal minorities for which we have made provision. Do you want an opportunity to be given for numbers to be increased for the purpose of getting more seats in the Legislatures? That is what is happening. All people have come to the same opinion that there should be a secular State here; so we should not allow conversion from one community to another. I therefore want that a positive fundamental right must be established that no conversion shall be allowed, and if any occasion does arise like this, let the person concerned appear before a judge and swear before him that he wishes to be converted. This may be an out-of-the-way suggestion but I would appeal to this House to realize the dangerous consequences otherwise. Later on it may attain enormous proportions. I would like this matter to be considered and the question referred back for a final draft for consideration at a later sitting.
Shri R. V. Dhulekar: Mr. President, my opinion is that Clause 17 should be retained as it stands. in the present environment, all sorts of efforts are being made to increase the population of a particular section in this country, so that once again efforts may be made to further divide this country. There is ample proof, both within this House and outside that many who live in this country are not prepared to be the citizens of this country. Those who have caused the division of our land desire that India may be further divided. Therefore in view of the present circumstances, i think that this clause should be retained. it is necessary that full attention should be paid to this. While on tour, I see every day refugees moving about with their children and I find them at railway stations, shops, hotels, bakeries and at numerous other places. The men of these bakeries abduct these women and children. There should be legislation to stop this. I would request you that an early move should be made to stop all this and millions of people would be saved.
I submit that we cannot now tolerate things of this nature. We are being attacked, and we do not want that India�s population, the numerical strength of the Hindus and other communities should gradually diminish, and after ten years the other people may again say that �we constitute a separate nation�. These separatist tendencies should be crushed.
Therefore I request that section 17 may be retained in the same form as is recommended by the Advisory Committee.
The Honourable Sardar Vallabhbhai J. Patel: Much of this debate may be shortened if it be recognised that there is no difference of opinion on the merits of the case that forcible conversion should not be or cannot be recognised by law. On that principle there is no difference of opinion. The question is only whether this clause is necessary in the list of fundamental rights. Now, if it is an objective for the administration to act, it has a place in the Second part which consists of non-justiciable rights. If you think it is necessary, let us transfer it to the Second part of the Schedule because it is admitted that in the law of the land forcible conversion is illegal. We have even stopped forcible education and, we do not for a moment suggest that forcible conversion of one by another from one religion to another will be recognised. But suppose one thousand people are converted, that is not recognised. Will you go to a court of law and ask it not to recognise it? It only creates complications, it gives no remedy. But if you want this principle to be enunciated as a seventh clause, coming after Clause 6, in the Second Schedule, it is unnecessary to carry on any debate; you can do so. There is no difference of opinion on the merits of the case. But at this stage to talk of forcible conversion on merits is absurd, because there cannot be any question about it.
At this stage Mr. Hussain Iman walked up to the rostrum to speak.
The Honourable Sardar Vallabhbhai J. Patel: Do you advocate forcible conversion?
Mr. Hussain Iman: No, Sir, I very much regret the attitude of certain Members who are in the habit of bri