Points To Ponder
Should conversion be allowed in Mauritius?
A First Point: “Protection of freedom of conscience
(1) Except with his own consent, no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of conscience and for the purposes of this section, that freedom includes freedom of thought and of religion, freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and both in public or in private, to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance. (…)
(5) Nothing contained in or done under the authority of any law shall be held to be inconsistent with or in contravention of this section to the extent that the law in question makes provision –
(a) in the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health;
(b) for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedoms of other persons, including the right to observe and practice any religion or belief with the unsolicited intervention of persons professing any other religion or belief, except so far as that provision or, as the case maybe, the thing done under its authority is shown not to be reasonably justifiable in a democratic society.”
I have come across and witnessed many religious groups trying to convert the Hindus to their respective faiths, and in most cases, underhand moves, unfair means like some job or a promotion has been used. Maybe one in a hundred thousand cases has voluntarily given up his own religion to embrace some other religion. What does the Constitution say about the practice of the different faiths in Mauritius. Let me quote the relevant part of Section 11 –
About two weeks ago, one of the Christian sects had organized a conversion session of Hindus to Christianity. Let us call the session what in fact it was. And this conversion session was organised in Triolet of all places. The first question we have to ask is this – were the persons who were invited, directly or indirectly, told that they were so invited to give up their religion and to embrace some form of Christianity? Then we have to put the other question – were the persons so invited not invited to watch a show by a third-rate actor from Mumbai but that man was there only to try to convince the Hindus to change their religion?
When the people in attendance understood that they were conned by the organisers, they, and rightly so, became vexed and angry. What happened subsequently must be the responsibility of the organisers. Why throw the blame on the Hindu community?
The Hindu community has been too tolerant for too long and it is now time to tell people what the Hindus think of their own religion as well as of the religion of others. Right from the days when Hindus first came to Mauritius, the Christian authorities have been trying their very best to convert them. They have succeeded up to a certain extent. Such conversion started with the slaves and their descendants, they were forcibly converted to Christianity from their own religions. Do not come with such nonsensical arguments that the slaves had no religion or that their religions were inferior to Christianity. Can the Christians say that for sure their religion is better than the religions that were practised by the free ancestors of the slaves in Africa? But yet they were forced by law and by their slave masters to adopt a religion that was totally foreign to them. And so, the various African religions practised by the slaves were lost for ever because of the authorities and of the Christian Churches.
Then came the Hindus. Hindus were promised a job or some promotion if they accepted to convert to Christianity. Some accepted because they were living in very difficult and trying circumstances, so I can say that they sold their religion for a job or a promotion. What kind of a job and what promotion! And this continued till the fifties. Most of the Hindus were tempted by the Roman Catholic authorities and by the Anglican Church. But these days, those on the fringe of Christianity are more bent on trying to convert the Hindus. The latter are constantly on the look-out for people in desperate circumstances. If a member of the family is not enjoying good health, a prayer meeting is organized at the place of that family, a supposed prayer is recited and some comforting words are uttered. Besides, some monetary facilities are also given. The same methods are resorted to to “cure” drunkards. The drunkard is accompanied by some members of the sect for a certain time; he is made to go through some special “sessions” to enable him to stay away from the bottle. If that happens, the people in the sect then say it’s a miracle. There are hundreds of such examples where people are duped in the name of religion.
What this proselytizing boils down to is simply saying that Hinduism is not a good religion, it cannot be trusted, and that the Hindus should give up their own religion and should be converted to one of the forms of Christianity. Do those people who go to the residences of the Hindus know, to start with, their own religion? They come to my place as well, and I can say that they do not understand the basics of Christianity and yet they have as their mission to convert the Hindus. I am speaking from experience and I understand religions.
Should conversion be allowed in Mauritius? The Constitution says so, but the Constitution does not have the imprint of finality. If conversion does more harm than good to our society, then the Constitution has to be amended. I am putting the question about trying to convert any Mauritian to another religion by the followers of one particular religion, should this be allowed? Of course if without the influence of priests or of those responsible for the religion, a person gives up his own religion and embraces some new religion, nobody can prevent this and nobody has the right to interfere in his choice. Any religious group has the right to preach to its own people, but not to others, this should be the policy. I am asking this of our politicians, of all our politicians, but again I know that they will not dare to answer. And this applies to politicians of all hues and of all parties.
However, I would say that those who have changed their religion for some reason other than faith proper should be encouraged to return to the religion of their ancestors. What do the leaders of the different religions in Mauritius have to say on this matter?
The various religious and socio-cultural organisations of the Hindu community should take a stand and the time to do so is now. I am thinking of the Arya Sabha, the Sanatan Dharma Temples Federation, the Hindu Maha Sabha, The Tamil Temple Federation, those organisations responsible for the Telegu-speaking, the Marathi-speaking, the Gujarati-speaking Hindus, as well as all those organisations that are fighting for the rights of all the Hindus. They should get together to tell others where the boundaries are that they should not cross. If conversion is to continue, ways and means should be found for Hindus to try to convert others to Hinduism. This will not be a major task. Help will be readily available.
In the meantime, legislation can be enacted to prevent any misuse of Section 11 of the Constitution. An Act of Parliament can be enacted “in the interest of public order” and also “for the purposes of protecting the rights and freedoms of other persons, including the rights to observe and practice any religion or belief without the unsolicited intervention of persons professing any other religion or belief.” I do believe that such provisions would not violate the Constitution and that such legislation does not need any special majority to be passed.
Whatever happened to the “Labour-MMM alliance”?
A Second Point: Politics… We were simply fed up of hearing and reading in the pro-MMM press that an alliance between the Labour Party and the MMM is about to be concluded or has been concluded and that on the following day, it was to be officially announced. And the same litany was being repeated by the private radio stations. But nothing as such was happening, as we have now learnt.
It all started with a rumour that the MMM and the Labour Party were nrgotiating an alliance for the forthcoming general election. Jayen Cuttaree had been to see the Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam in his office and he was appointed to be the liaison officer of the MMM for the nebulous alliance. Paul Bérenger did make some statements, and we were told that in a few days time, the Labour Party-MMM alliance was to become a reality and the PMSD and the other parties in the Alliance would be out of the government. Maybe Xavier Duval could, as a favour, be given a ticket for the election.
At the same time, we were told that Dinesh Ramjuttun, the Union Nationale of Ashock Jugnauth and the MMSD of Eric Guimbeau were sidelined, at least for the time being. Those who had already been selected as candidates by the MMM were made to understand that most of them would not be candidates as only 25 seats would be allocated to the MMM by the Labour Party. This caused a lot of frustration in the party, until last week.
Who started this talk about an alliance between the Labour Party and the MMM? The Leader of the Labour Party never mentioned of any such alliance, nor did the Secretary General of the party during his weekly meetings with the press. And these are the only two persons entitled to make official declarations on behalf of the party.
On the other hand, Jayen Cuttaree, the deputy leader, and Paul Bérenger did make certain statements from which we conclude that discussions for such an alliance were on and that in a matter of days, everything would be finalized.
Should we believe Navin Ramgoolam and Devah Virahsawmy or should we believe Paul Bérenger and Jayen Cuttaree? There is no need for me to answer this question, let the people draw their own conclusion.
Just before the rumour of the talk of alliance, we knew of the poll that had been carried out by the Louis Harris Institute, and the result of the poll is very surprising indeed. The popularity of the Labour Party was at 53%, that of the MMM-MSM was at 27%. In the circumstances, what could the MMM do? And now we know the reason why people like Rajesh Bhagwan and others of the shouting brigade of the MMM have simply shut up. They had always said that the MMM was the strongest party in the country, that it could fight an election alone and win, that it would field its own candidate for the prime ministership and such nonsense. Where are Rajesh Bhagwan and others of his ilk at present?
The MMM knows very well how weak, politically speaking, it is and it is prepared to play second fiddle to the Labour Party. It was prepared to accept even 25 tickets. But now the MMM says that all talk of an alliance with the Labour Party is off and that it is prepared to assume its role of the opposition. It cannot be that the party is in opposition to the government one moment and the next moment it says that it is in the opposition simply because the party in government does not want to enter into an alliance with the party supposed to be in the opposition. Either government is and has been doing well and therefore the parties in opposition have the duty to support the government, or it is not doing well and therefore the opposition must be critical of the actions of the government. What the opposition, that is the MMM, has done cannot be accepted in a democracy.
Paul Bérenger is all for a three-cornered fight. So also are all the newspapers supposedly independent but in fact under the boots of Paul Bérenger. According to me, the reasoning is simple. The Labour Party and the MSM rely mainly on the support of the Hindu electorate, so this electorate must be kept divided so as to make others appear stronger than they are. People who say that there should be no alliance between the Labour Party and the MSM have as their agenda to keep the Hindu community divided, that is they are following the policy of their colonial masters of divide and rule. But we say that there must not be division in the communities, nor for that matter, should there be division in the population as a whole.
Some of the papers I have mentioned have opined that if there will be an alliance between the Labour Party and the MSM, the population would be divided, meaning, according to me, that the General Population will be separate from the Hindus as well as from the Muslim community. And those papers are divisive in their policies. To start with, the Alliance Sociale government is considered as a government of all the communities. If some sections of the different communities are not interested to be with the Alliance Sociale, in spite of everything that is being done, how can the Alliance Sociale be blamed?
What about Sanskrit?
A Third Point: Vasant Bunwaree, the minister responsible for Education as well as Culture has taken the reasonable step to bring before Parliament various bills concerning the different languages used and spoken here and I am sure that the cultures supported by those languages would be the beneficiaries. It is most unfortunate that those languages have not received the help that they deserve when they were most in need of such help and now they can feel a sense of relief that the authorities are addressing the problem.
However, there is one major lacuna that Vasant Bunwaree has to address his mind to. This concerns the Sanskrit language. This is the language par excellence in world terms and it is the mother language for all the Indo-European groups of languages. This is recognized, I will not say in Mauritius, but by learned persons who matter all over the world. However, for us, Sanskrit is the religious language for all the Hindus, even for those who are in fact Hindus but they say that they are something else. In spite of them, Sanskrit is their religious language.
So we are requesting Vasant Bunwaree to bring in the Parliament a bill to give some sort of recognition to Sanskrit as well. He will be remembered for this with gratefulness.