Thoughts on the Right to Propagate Religion – I

“Propagation of religion” is an area where Indian law is both unclear and unfair to non-proselytizing groups:

  1. The word religion cannot describe our society and hence propagation methods of religions are not acceptable in India
  2. The terms and ethics of propagation are not spelt out, which have been accepted norms in this nation for ages and helped a peaceful and non-traumatic spreading of traditions and mutual enrichment with interaction
  3. Practice is a right, but propagation is a privilege to be earned. Calling out propagation a basic right (Art 25.1) unwittingly encourages infringement of others’ freedom of their faith to not be interfered with.
  4. Like in many other areas like corruption and bad leadership, the primary assumption of constitution has been a use of law, not misuse.

We seek to explore here in brief, the conceptual background that helps formulating proper laws in this matter.

What is religion comprised of?

Religion by definition, is a truth claim and not a truth-seeking system. Indian traditions share a knowledge system with its formal hypothesizing, deductive and validating structures. India’s knowledge traditions have the culture of debating based on formal epistemology among the proponents of traditions, to earn the moral right to propagate their respective traditions.

Who can propagate?

In oriental societies, subscription and practice of any tradition is a matter of personal choice almost entirely. Propagation and preaching is a privilege, not a basic right as our constitution proclaims. It is similar to saying that to learn is a basic right but to teach is a privilege to be earned, and that to be treated of a problem is a basic right but to treat others is a privilege to be earned with knowledge and ability.

Among traditions/sampradayas, there is a formal debating structure. Propagation is a privilege earned by one who, having mastered one’s own tradition’s worldview and formal learning structures, ably defends one’s own siddhAnta in a formal debate, without taking recourse to deceptive arguments. There are ethics of argumentation or vAda, and arguments are qualified as ethical and deceptive.

What if deceptive arguments are used for propagation?

In formal argumentation, a deceptive argument is the last resort one uses to save a humiliating defeat. It cannot be used to defeat an opponent. Debates are officially moderated by scholars, who would object to such arguments. Argument proceeds as long as one does not withdraw or concede defeat, but it has to stick to either pUrva paksha (refutation of counter theory) or uttara paksha (affirmation of one’s own tenets).

Who cannot propagate?

One who is defeated in a debate, has to either convert to his victor’s position, or retire from propagation. It is immoral and fraudulent to continue propagating, once having lost a debate. Before doing that one must reverse the loss by inviting to debate proponents of erstwhile victorious tradition and defeat them.

What is ‘loss’

A tradition is not expected to be defeated in a defeat. It is the proponent who is defeated. This is because –

  1. The depth of tradition and the strength of argument of scholars are two different things. A tradition could be great, but the scholars may or may not be able to defend it for various reasons.
  2. Traditions evolve with time, and their practice cannot be questioned as long as practitioners retain belief in the core tenets of the traditions. This is unrelated to any scholarly debates.
  3. A scholar being defeated at a point of time could happen for various reasons:
    1. One not being equipped with sufficient knowledge of other traditions to win a debate
    2. One not being the best proponent of one’s own tradition compared to his rivals in debate
  4. The arguments extended from one tradition being refuted by others, which means the losing side would reformulate their arguments over time and conduct victorious debates and be back in propagation. This happens over several generations, not even in the life time of one proponent
  5. At a given point there could be places where proponents of one tradition are strong in scholarship and widen their practice and there could be other regions where weak scholarship of regional proponents weakens the tradition and shrinks practice

When is a tradition prohibited?

When a tradition becomes anti-social and disrupts the civilized social order it can be prohibited by the state, as was done in the case of nIlapaTa-s. Its practitioners would be warned (and punished in extreme cases) and propagators punished.

Market Argument

Often, a free market kind of argument is extended to justify right to propagate, that anyone is free to propagate and anyone who does not want to convert to another religion is free to reject it. This is ridden with several flaws, a few to mention:

  1. Even in a free market, right to buy and right to sell are distinct and the latter requires norms and licensing for productizing, marketing and selling. If an equivalent be applied, right to propagate is to be earned by clearing certain norms common to traditions.
  2. This puts the onus of knowing ins and outs of religions squarely on the common man, who is not equipped with the know how to understand the deception of specialized propagators.
  3. As a basic principle of propagating, one needs to respect the right of practitioners to not be interfered with. To say “I will bombard you with my speeches and keep coming to your places to insult your traditions but you are free to reject my version” is simply immoral and worthy of punishment.
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24 thoughts on “Thoughts on the Right to Propagate Religion – I

    1. skandaveera Post author

      Per traditions an individual’s loss is individual’s alone, and it is completely subjective whether any family member also changes the mata along with the lost member. As far as the Upanishadic ashTAvakra story goes, he avenges his father’s loss. But a majority of cases are where the most illustrious family head loses debate and entire family follows his new sampradaya. Although it is an open question how the law should be or whether it should even go into these.

      Reply
  1. sighbaboo (@sighbaboo)

    Dear SkandaVeera,
    I define spirituality as a discipline/process which enables an individual (who can, in principle be disconnected to the rest of the society) to attain enlightenment/awakening.
    A religion can have its spiritual dimension(s) and social dimensions. By the latter, I mean how to conduct oneself for the goodness of the society, helping the poor, reducing human suffering etc..
    Can there exist a religion which does not have any spiritual side to it? Suppose such a religion wants to propagate itself in our Bhoomi? How do we debate it? All that it says is “Do good to everyone”. This is such a bland proposition that anyone who demands that religion to enter into an a priori debate with Dharmic Pundits can be castigated as inhumane.
    This “do good to everyone” is a mask though, or it can be called as the secular sugar coating. Yet, in an age where perceptions outweigh facts, how does one approach such a situation?

    Regards,
    Sighbaboo

    Reply
    1. pp_chn

      May be in Japanese/greek thoughts, not sure who said/wrote this.

      Why do u need jesus to say ” help others” , why can’t u do it on ur own? Why do u need a messiah for such simple rules 🙂

      Reply
      1. skandaveera Post author

        Also Sankara’s counter to Buddhist non-AtmAnic claim: no one says “I don’t exist”, so self definitely does exist. Seemingly simple but its a specialization. When we say xtian claims are refuted, it means refuted by scholars. Which is why non-specialists however smart, should not venture and damage the traditions they claim to represent.

    2. skandaveera Post author

      Dear Sighbaboo,

      Let us differentiate religion from traditions. Religion is a monolith whether or not it has spirituality. There is some spiritual content in the religions (Xtianity etc) plagiarized from gnostics, pagans and now Hindus. That hardly makes them spiritual by nature, because they are by definition socio-political imperial ideologies.

      “How do we debate it? All that it says is “Do good to everyone”.”

      Which is why trained scholars should be given that brief, who specialize in dealing with deceptive arguments. Jesuits are very trained in employing deception, first making the most bland and then the most outrageous comments about other traditions. “Doing good to everyone” should have a root: what is meant by good, what is the origin of goodness and badness, how is good done etc. When the world is born in sin how on earth can you bring happiness? On the contrary for us the world is born in happiness. Goodness is the basic nature of human, not sin. These are elementary but need formal learning to be able to win a formal debate. In a formal debate “do good to everyone” would outright get lambasted: unlike in a political rally 🙂

      Regards,
      Skanda

      Reply
      1. chaya (@pp_chn)

        /* should not venture and damage the traditions they claim to represent. */ agree, but just wanted to put this out as it crossed my mind. i am sure this was uttered by an expert not a layman 🙂

      2. skandaveera Post author

        Its not a ref to you or me, know that you differentiate 🙂 Added the word as a case in point which was generally mentioned in response to Sri Sighbaboo.

        A general caution Hindus must exercise and appreciate the fact that jesuits are formally trained and our traditional scholars must be given their due in such argumentation. Many wellmeaning folk having done good reading, fall flat because they don’t discriminate.

  2. pp_chn (@pp_chn)

    /* As mentioned traditions upgrade and also scholarship. */ In your opinion, how much has Rop/RoL traditions have changed in their core beliefs? Dont they still believe in converting every one to their own true religion?

    /*There is no one-point victory or loss for traditions*/ How much of this can be applied to Rop/RoL especially, as you said, they are truth-claims?

    /* This policy has much bigger advantage, in time and also space. */ Advantage to whom? Do we have the luxury to allow debates, without a core change in their ideology, especially when they come with Western financial backing? IMO, affording them this luxury (allow debates across time & space) is foolishness on our part. Simple truth, is Rop/RoL came as conquerors. We allowing them “respect” by way of debates shows us for what we are; that we are weak & can’t put them in their place.

    /* become eligible for practice in the society */ Why should Rop/RoL be allowed this privilege?

    /* It should enter only when practices/traditions become anti-social or anti-national. */ We have enough proof of Rop/RoL’s anti-social/anti-national attitudes. State has every reason to ban it even today. Japs did it the moment they realised the danger from RoL.

    On what basis, should we allow churches in our land, when our ancestors were tortured for the sin of being Hindus? If we had banned RoL or atleast curtailed it, would the inculturation problem be acute as its now?

    /* A tradition is not expected to be defeated in a defeat. It is the proponent who is defeated. */ Pardon me for my ignorance, but in this http://voiceofdharma.org/books/hhce/Ch6.htm we see both ideology AND the proponent’s behaviour being questioned. When RoL can’t answer this, why should they be allowed to debate in an endless loops 🙂

    Hindus also pointed to the �hatred and persecution between various Christian sects�, leading to doubts as to which of them represented real Christianity. But more serious doubts were raised about Jesus, the god of the Christians. �To our reason,� they said, �it does not appear very sensible that they believe in a God who was tortured and killed by his own people.�13 One correspondent asked, �Why did he at last have to hang on the cross like a thief? How is it possible that he being true God could die?�14 Another correspondent put it more plainly: �Does it not seem the height of unreasonableness to suppose him to be the saviour of the world who was of mean parentage, had as mean an education, was persecuted by his countrymen, and at last was hanged by public Authority upon an infamous cross?�15 Hindus found it hard to believe that Jesus was God and Son of God and Holy Ghost at the same time: �How is it possible that God who is only one nevertheless is threefold?�16

    Reply
    1. pp_chn (@pp_chn)

      Let’s not forget what will happen to us when Hindus “lose” a debate. We are giving them the luxury of continuously debating us, but we won’t get the same courtesy 😦

      Reply
      1. skandaveera Post author

        It is endless because propagation is a basic right. If it is not, and if its qualification is debate, you’ve shielded common man from poison by limiting debate to the trained men. Which is a level playing field and advantage knowledge traditions.

    2. skandaveera Post author

      “How much of this can be applied to Rop/RoL especially, as you said, they are truth-claims?”

      Whether it applies or not, should be their worry. If they can’t reformulate their refuted claims, they lose their footprint. Policy’s main worry IMHO, should be how to frame persons losing-yet-propagating for fraud. Curtail this, RoP/RoL propagation almost dies. Physical attacks will then be dealt in a physical way.

      “Advantage to whom? Do we have the luxury to allow debates, without a core change in their ideology, especially when they come with Western financial backing? ”

      In the realm of debate, advantage is of one who evolves, not one who sticks to dogma. Thus far Hindus could not use their best strength because the game is being played in the territory of the enemy: concealed genocide. TO bring the game into the realm of debate is definitely advantageous to us. Not just within Bharata but elsewhere. Besides, it is the arguments extended in a debate that keep evolving to sustain the core beliefs, not necessarily core beliefs: although they could also evolve. For instance the amount of research Xtians invested in redefining the presentation of their core beliefs would leave any Hindu perplexed.

      “Why should Rop/RoL be allowed this privilege?”

      Depends whether they render themselves eligible. Law by itself, at least the basic tenet, cannot call out anything to contrary.

      “We have enough proof of Rop/RoL’s anti-social/anti-national attitudes. State has every reason to ban it even today. Japs did it the moment they realised the danger from RoL.”

      So be it 🙂 State may have reasons to act but not the laws today to be able to act. To be able to act, you need a law which says you can. We are talking of that law. If the law is framed and a tradition is demonstrably anti-social, let law take its own course. That is just implementation of law and a natural course.

      “On what basis, should we allow churches in our land, when our ancestors were tortured for the sin of being Hindus? ”

      The current law does allow them. Make a law that disallows, so that state can act. To amend constitution to say some tradition is prohibited from practice, would be against the basic principle of this land and against the basic spirit of constitution. To say traditions must follow these norms and act on those which don’t, is it is dealt.

      “we see both ideology AND the proponent’s behaviour being questioned. When RoL can’t answer this, why should they be allowed to debate in an endless loops”

      Whether it is endless depends on whether they upgrade. So far the cycle of debate itself has not begun in a way that law could be invoked against such endless loop: frauds lose in one place and propagate in another. It is true that siddhAnta is also refuted in debates, but the window is left open to improve the refuted arguments. If the old refuted argument repeats, it will face the same fate. This puts onus on the defender to improve this tenets also. Those that don’t, fade out in time. No siddhAnta which reformulated was ever denied the chance to debate: of course under the conditions that it doesn’t resort to fraud or anti-social activity.

      It is also very true that historically proper refutations were produced by Hindus (like Chettampi Swamy) – to what avail, when propagation doesn’t stop? Logically, how do you make the refuted traditions accountable to answer the refutation or concede loss, unless the culture of debate is made mandatory with no other window to propagate?

      Reply
      1. pp_chn (@pp_chn)

        /* State may have reasons to act but not the laws today to be able to act. To be able to act, you need a law which says you can. */ can the fact that they lost the debate in the earlier centuries, reason enough for State to enact the following now, without going into additional debates? so a) ban conversions b) ban Xnity on historical pretexts c) allow controlled, televised debates.

        /* To amend constitution to say some tradition is prohibited from practice, would be against the basic principle of this land and against the basic spirit of constitution. */ but having faith in only “my god” is also against basic principle of this land 🙂 & constitution we all know is based on colonial ideals 🙂

      2. skandaveera Post author

        “an the fact that they lost the debate in the earlier centuries, reason enough for State to enact the following now”

        Track record only holds for anti-social/anti-national and disruption activity, not to argumentation. So record of losing debates is as good as useless, though you have the other reason to act.

        Banning ‘xtianity’ is also problematic because ban should be of traditions – which perhaps relate to the various denominations. Indeed there are denominations which refrain don’t proselytize and deserve to be not banned. Once enacting begins, all those that avow such behavior could be exempted. And so on. I know it is lengthier but the fairer it is, the easier it is to enact, given the nature of Hindu society and the leadership it produces.

        “but having faith in only “my god” is also against basic principle of this land”

        True, which is the fundamental problem we’re trying to ‘logically’ resolve without calling it out as such. After all faith is an exercise opposed to debating and in favor of foisting 🙂

        “constitution we all know is based on colonial ideals”

        Which is what we’re seeking to change by positing that right to propagate is a privilege and not a basic right 🙂

  3. pp_chn

    Many a thanks for the writeup. You mentioned religion is a truth claim. At what point does it get to equate itself with dharmic traditions? At what point we have to equate religion with our own?Since RoP & RoL came as conquerors, do we need to afford the same kind of respect reserved for oriental traditions? Doubt: is Sikhism similar to RoP/RoL ? Did vedic traditional practitioners have debates with sikh founders if Sikhism is a religion?

    On social disorder & prohibition of practice

    You mentioned in your reply to sh.venu that prohibition is left for the traditions to decide amongst themselves. As we’ve seen RoL lost the debate with our acharyas. Yet under the principle of equality it continued to flourish & today there are locals who are fighting for its rights to convert. So why then once the debate is lost it shouldn’t be prohibited altogether by the State? As king is up holder of dharma so should the hindu State be & prohibit it, imo.

    As practice by individuals ,after debate is lost, isn’t fruitful at all with the implications on progeny/neighbors/relatives /public place of worship/burial etc.

    Reply
  4. gangarehab

    Sir, You have argued within Bharatiya sampradaya context with regards to who has the right to propagate. This is good only within Indian context, for example when one asks Buddhists have the right to propagate Buddhism. Since Buddhists too prescribe to the same ethics as debate, this is accepted. But Conversion proponents are not from Bharatiya Sampradaya, they don’t prescrtibe to debates. As you and Sighbaboo have said, it is intrinsic in their religion to propagate even if that means to encroachment of HIndu right to practice their dharma. This is a catch 22 situation which guarantees right to practice ones religion. S.Balagangadhara’s paper beautifully illustrates this conundrum before the government.

    The first mistake the government made is to equate Hinduism with Book based, history centric religions, this is a blatant mistake much like leaving a cat among pigeons. Secondly declaring India a secular nation. Secularism doesn’t apply to Indian context because as S.Balagangadhara argues, secularism is a western concept to restrict church’s authority interference in the government.In Hindu sampradaya Secualrism is in built, but once it was imposed, it made the play field skewed in favour of truth claim based religions which gave the right to propagate their religion in the name of secularism.

    So as long as we address conversions within the gamibit of equal rights and secular frame work, conversions cannot be stopped.

    venug(@ngc1729)

    Reply
    1. skandaveera Post author

      Sir,

      This is the first part of what we are currently planning to be of 3 parts and plan to explain the stand further. Ultimately it comes down to how the laws are formulated, to protect the Bharatiya traditions: after all it is the primary duty of constitution and law. If rules of propagation not be followed, propagation gets prohibited. Whether it means practice also gets prohibited, is for the respective traditions to figure out and align themselves accordingly, which we do not need to bother about. Law will simply not allow propagation by unqualified men by native standards. Because law does not define practice or propagation per semitic but native notion.

      I agree Prof Balu articulated the problem precisely.

      “So as long as we address conversions within the gamibit of equal rights and secular frame work, conversions cannot be stopped.”

      Agreed. Which is why the attempt to redefine.

      Reply
      1. pp_chn

        Many a thanks for the writeup. You mentioned religion is a truth claim. At what point does it get to equate itself with dharmic traditions? At what point we have to equate religion with our own?Since RoP & RoL came as conquerors, do we need to afford the same kind of respect reserved for oriental traditions? Doubt: is Sikhism similar to RoP/RoL ? Did vedic traditional practitioners have debates with sikh founders if Sikhism is a religion?

        On social disorder & prohibition of practice

        You mentioned in your reply to sh.venu that prohibition is left for the traditions to decide amongst themselves. As we’ve seen RoL lost the debate with our acharyas. Yet under the principle of equality it continued to flourish & today there are locals who are fighting for its rights to convert. So why then once the debate is lost it shouldn’t be prohibited altogether by the State? As king is up holder of dharma so should the hindu State be & prohibit it, imo.

        As practice by individuals ,after debate is lost, isn’t fruitful at all with the implications on progeny/neighbors/relatives /public place of worship/burial etc.

        When it comes to practice there is no attempt at redefinition imo. As you’ve mentioned “to practice is a right”.

      2. skandaveera Post author

        “At what point does it get to equate itself with dharmic traditions”

        It doesn’t at anypoint. Those who intend to propagate have to present themselves as traditions, put their worldview for scrutiny in front of the most rigorous debating. If they don’t, they don’t qualify to propagate.

        “Since RoP & RoL came as conquerors, do we need to afford the same kind of respect reserved for oriental traditions?”

        No: which is why we are trying to set our own norms, which are scientific and morally justifiable.

        “Doubt: is Sikhism similar to RoP/RoL ?”

        No. It isautonomous, but emerged from the native social fabric and hence shares an organic bond. They call themselves Khalsas Panth (a sampradaya) and Sikh Dharm (well inline with dharma-dhamma worldviews).

        “Did vedic traditional practitioners have debates with sikh founders if Sikhism is a religion?”

        I am not aware of, but historically they arose from a dire need of the society hence the attempt has always been to increase their footprint and not challenge. In the lifecycle of Sikhism it did not enter the phase of such need to be countered before Brits, and after that the whole debating structure has been invalidated. So once that revives, this question would be just as valid for any other panth/sampradaya, an internal and non-traumatic matter. In fact it encourages even the Sikhs to seriously enhance their own scholarship of their and other traditions.

        “prohibition is left for the traditions to decide amongst themselves”

        Not prohibition, but to figure out how they distinguish propagation from practice and become eligible for practice in the society.

        “As we’ve seen RoL lost the debate with our acharyas. Yet under the principle of equality it continued to flourish & today there are locals who are fighting for its rights to convert”

        As mentioned traditions upgrade and also scholarship. There is no one-point victory or loss for traditions. Those RoP folk who lose debates are to be barred from propagation and punished by state if found guilty. This policy has much bigger advantage, in time and also space.

        “So why then once the debate is lost it shouldn’t be prohibited altogether by the State?”

        Reasoning is attempted under what is ‘loss’, we can debate further if you find it unconvincing.

        “As king is up holder of dharma so should the hindu State be & prohibit it, imo.”

        Into matters of tenet validation and accepting traditions State should remain aloof. It should enter only when practices/traditions become anti-social or anti-national. Otherwise state’s misuse of power cannot be curtailed.

        “When it comes to practice there is no attempt at redefinition imo. As you’ve mentioned “to practice is a right”.”

        Yes. It has always been, unless it is shown that such practice is anti-social (which would be the case for some by data and hence actionable by such law).

  5. sighbaboo (@sighbaboo)

    Dear @SkandaVeera,
    Cannot thank you (and @pp_chn) enough for writing this so cogently. I have one query:
    In #3, you state: “Practice is a right, but propagation is a privilege to be earned.”

    Have you considered the situation where propagation is intrinsic to the practice of a religion? A few examples come to my mind (non-Dharmic though). What should the State do in such cases?

    Regards,
    Sighbaboo

    Reply
    1. skandaveera Post author

      Dear @sighbaboo,

      Yes precisely, in the proselytizing practice is intrinsic to propagation. This exactly is the cognitive error made by constitution-makers, and hence unwittingly framed the law to favor them by not separating these two logically separate exercises of practice and propagation as identified by native traditions. In the second part (upcoming), I was planning to bring up just that 🙂

      We recognize the teacher and student distinctly, along with their qualification and eligibility. Our laws should be in these lines.

      Regards,
      Skanda

      Reply
      1. skandaveera Post author

        🙂 yes. In proselytizing traditions propagation is intrinsic to practice.

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