Stop this conversion business!

Points to Ponder 

By Lex

A First Point: Jocelyn Grégoire, the singing priest, is angry that the Voice of Hindu says that it is against the Christians trying to convert the Hindus. He says that this is against the Constitution because according to him, our Constitution allows the Christians to convert the Hindus. It seems that during the time that he was in America, after the general election, he has become an expert on constitutional matters. But he goes further. He says that democracy says that Hindus can be converted into Christians, and anything contrary will be against the tenets of democracy.

Another priest, Jean Maurice Labour has said that Hindus cannot prevent the Christians from converting fellow Hindus to Christianity. And you have those in charge of other Christian sects uttering similar ideas.

Democracy says that you shall have a government that will come from the due process of a fair and free election. The majority forms the government and the minority forms the opposition. If Jocelyn Grégoire is so very interested in democracy and politics, he is free to form a party of his own, fight the next general election and if his party wins a majority of seats in the National Assembly, I am sure that he will become the Prime Minister of the country and he can then interpret democracy as he feels like. He says that he is for a Prime Minister coming from amongst the Creoles, why not himself after his experience in the political field during the last general election?

Let us now see what the Constitution says:

S.1 says that “Mauritius shall be a sovereign democratic state…,” but the word “democratic” has not been defined.

S.3 says:

“Fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual

It is hereby recognized and declared that in Mauritius there have existed and shall continue to exist without discrimination by reason of race, place of origin, political opinions, colour, creed or sex, but subject to the rights and freedoms of others and for the public interest, each and all of the following human rights and fundamental freedoms –


(b) freedom of conscience…

And the provisions of this chapter shall have effect for the purpose of affording protection to those rights and freedoms subject to such limitations of that protection as are contained in those provisions, being limitations designed to ensure that the enjoyment of those rights and freedoms by any individual does not prejudice the rights and freedoms of others or the public interest.”

And we have also section 11 –

“11 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 private, to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching practice or observance.

(2) Except with his own consent (or , if he is a minor, the consent of his guardian) no person attending any place of education shall be required to receive religious instruction or to take part in or attend any religious ceremony or observance if that instruction, ceremony or observance relates to a religion that he does not profess.

(3) No religious community or denomination shall be prevented from making provision for the giving, by persons lawfully in Mauritius of religious instruction to persons of that community or denomination in the course of any education provided by that community or denomination.

(4) No person shall be compelled to take any oath that is contrary to religion or belief in a manner that is contrary to his religion or belief.

(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; or

(b) for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedoms of other persons, including the right to observe and practice any religion or belief without the unsolicited intervention of persons professing any other religion or belief

(6) Except so far as that provision or as the case may be, the thing done under its authority is shown not to be reasonable justifiable in a democratic society.”

So far as I can see, this is all that our Constitution has to say on religion and religious freedom. I hope that Jocelyn Grégoire and his ilk understand the purport of what the Constitution says, especially the exceptions and provisos.

But on the matter of introducing a law against conversion, the Voice of Hindu is for it, but two of the Roman Catholic clergymen are against, apparently because they want to convert the Hindus. We must put the question whether it is possible to have such a piece of legislation, being given that we are living in a democracy and we have the Constitution that we have? My opinion is that it is possible, especially if we go by the precedent in India. Everybody must accept that India is a good democracy and its Constitution has made provision for this just as our Constitution has. And the basic fundamentals of both our Constitutions are the same.

The Christians were using unfair means to convert Hindus to Christianity and the first state to address the problem has been Orissa. Madhya Pradesh followed sometime later on, but the Christian authorities were dead against these laws. They seized the Courts to have these laws declared illegal. The law in Madhya Pradesh made it a penal offence to convert or attempt to convert a person by means of force, fraud or allurement, and the law in Orissa had used the word inducement for the word allurement. The Supreme Court heard full and comprehensive arguments and it came to the conclusion that both pieces of legislation were in conformity with the Constitution. It rejected all the points raised by the Christian authorities and it has given a fully reasoned judgment. After the judgment, other States have enacted acts similar in purpose to the acts enacted by the states of Orissa and Madhya Pradesh. I would invite those who are interested to know more on the subject to read the writings of Durga Das Basu, the world-renowned constitutional lawyer in his books on the Indian Constitution.

It will not be against the spirit or against the letter of our Constitution to have such a law on our Statute Books. There is one matter on which I am dead against, and it is this: how can you say that you respect all religions including Hinduism, that you sit and talk to the supposed religious men of all religious group, including Hinduism and at the same time you try to convert Hindus to Christianity, as if Hinduism is not a religion that people should not practise? How can the Hindus in these circumstances, accept to sit with others in some inter-faith or inter-religious committee and discuss matters, inter alia, concerning Hinduism or the Hindu culture? The day they will accept that they are not here to convert Hindus should be the day on which all religious leaders, of all religions, can sit together and try to solve certain problems.

To end on this point, I will advise those Hindus who talk nonsense about Hinduism, especially some in the intellectual class, to read the Upanishads and understand the philosophy that is found therein. It is not easy to understand, but the satisfaction is immense if you understand the message. And then of course there are the Vedas and if this also is too difficult to understand, then read the Puranas. There is of course the Bhagavad-Gita . There is everything in Hinduism, for all classes of people, from the very learned to the not learned at all. Choose what you want and you will be satisfied. 

Tourism and Culture

A Second Point: Tourists like to watch and learn about the culture in the different countries. And they prefer to learn of the cultures that are different from their own. Unfortunately, according to me, the Mauritian Creole culture is more or less the same as the European culture, except for some of the sega songs and dances.

However, the Hindu culture is quite different for the European and Chinese from what they witness in their own countries. The first event that will attract tourists will be Deepavali or Divali as it is commonly known. This festival of lights attracts Mauritians of all communities because visually, it is very attractive indeed. For the Hindus, this festival has a deep religious significance and they perform their pujas as they have always done. At the same time, they prepare sweets of different varieties which they share with their friends and neighbours of whatever community they belong to.

Another festival that can attract many tourists is the Ramleela. This festival is very popular where we have people of the Indian diaspora, like Trinidad, Guyana or Fiji. In Mauritius, we had Ramleela in the countryside, but over the years, it has lost its shine. The socio-religious organizations should try to find out as to the reasons for which this festival died down, and they should revive it. They can ask the Indian authorities to help us and they will surely do so gladly.

Then we have the Cavadee, we have the Ram Bhajanum, the Durga Puja, the Ganesh Puja, the Krishna Puja or Govinden and of course we have the Maha Shivaratree. All these festivals are essentially religious in character, and everything must be done to preserve this religious aspect but they have the power to attract tourists as well. If Hindus from other countries would come to participate, they would be most welcome. Other tourists can come to the country and learn about our culture and they will understand a little bit better about the Hindu ethos, and how we the Hindus have been able to keep alive the Hindu soul of Mauritius, in spite of all the difficulties over the years. Does this not show how resilient Hinduism and the Hindu culture can be?

So the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Tourism should use our Hindu culture to promote the better our tourism. 

Bhojpuri & Creol TV Channels

A Third Point: At long last government has decided to introduce Bhojpuri in our school curriculum. Better late than never as they say. The question now is about the type Bhojpuri will be introduced — the original Bhojpuri or the creolized form? I have spoken to several persons who know the language inside out. Their opinion is, and I subscribe to it, that Bhojpuri is a language in its own right, with a rich vocabulary, with a proper grammar which makes the language well structured and with a vast literature.

Why is it that some persons have tried to introduce the creolized form of Bhojpuri in our schools? The Ministry should go straight to the original Bhojpuri, get the books and other materials necessary to teach the children the language and get whatever help that is required from the Indian government or better still from the authorities in Patna in Bihar. I am sure they will be eager to help us.

Do you know that you can do your PHD in Bhojpuri in Bihar? Why is it that our government has not requested the Indian government to give us about a dozen scholarship for undergraduate as well as postgraduate studies in Bhojpuri? In the meantime, our local Bhojpuri teachers can make do with whatever facilities that can be put at their disposal.

At long last, our language will be treated with the respect that it deserves, let us hope so. But we still have to travel the distance between the cup and the lips, and in certain circumstances, that is indeed a long distance…I read somewhere that Bhojpuri derives from Hindi. This can hardly be true. Both are written in the Devanagari script as are also Sanskrit and Marathi, but Bhojpuri has existed from well before Hindi. We can say that Bhojpuri gave birth to Hindi and not the other way. However, we are not going to fight on such an issue.

By the way, our Hindu friends who are of the Marathi-speaking group, the Telugu-speaking group and the Tamil-speaking group, and our Muslim friends and others who appreciate the Urdu language must be fully satisfied that they have a channel on our television in their own language. The government as well as the Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation have given satisfaction to the different section of our people.

However, the MBC must have a closer look at the channel catering for the Hindi-speaking group. There are some programmes in Hindustani, which is quite distinct from Hindi. The Hindi-speaking group deserves a channel in Hindi. This can be done with a little bit of help. How is it that the MBC has forgotten about a Hindi channel? Maybe those who should advise have confused between Hindustani and Hindi? Maybe they do not understand anything about languages and culture. They have to be blamed.

And then of course we must have a channel in Bhojpuri, with programmes that can be received from India, at little cost to the MBC. As this language will be in our school curriculum, it is but reasonable that our children be exposed to the language as it should be spoken.

The MBC should also introduce a channel in Creole especially for the same reason that Bhojpuri should be introduced, namely to help students. But I am afraid that for Creole, all the programmes should be prepared locally as there is no country in the world where our type of Creole is used. Even the Creole of Seychelles is different from ours. The MBC has a long way to go in order to give satisfaction to all our citizens.

* Published in print edition on 4 November 2010

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