ALL India Majlis-e-Ittehadul-Muslimeen (AIMIM) leader Asaduddin Owaisi, who represents Hyderabad in the Lok Sabha, recently launched a spirited attack on the government on the issue of alleged forcible conversions of impoverished Muslims by Hindutva organisations. In an interview to Frontline , Owaisi refuted the government’s arguments about foreign funding for conversions, questioned the need for an anti-conversion Bill, and talked about the role of parties of minorities in parliamentary democracy. Excerpts:
How do you view the recent attempts by Hindutva groups to convert poor Muslims and Christians forcibly to Hinduism even as the government is harping on development?
While the government speaks the so-called language of development, the Sangh Parivar continues with the implementation of its ideology. This talk of development is only a facade. The actual aim is to implement the Hindutva ideology. On the economic front, nothing of any consequence has happened since this government came to power, despite all these grand announcements.
The government argues that sustained conversion and proselytisation with the help of foreign funds specifically targets the poor and that conversions are engineered through inducements or coercion. Your response.
The BJP and its Sangh Parivar affiliates believe that Muslims were all forcibly converted 1,000 years ago and also that the Muslim population is about to overtake the Hindu population. This is a myth. Between the 1961 and 2001 Censuses, the population of Hindus came down by 3.1 percentage points while the Muslim population went up only by 2.7 percentage points. This has nothing to do with Muslims having more children; rather it has to do with the lower infant mortality rates among Muslims. The 3.1 per cent decrease is nothing significant and it is not because of conversion. These myths are only being peddled to create communal polarisation in the country.
The government should immediately release the 2011 population Census figures. Where is the empirical evidence to show that foreign missionaries are coming and the population of Christians has gone up? If foreign funds are indeed coming to Christian organisations, they have taken permission for the same from the government.
On the government's proposal to introduce an anti-conversion law.
In the five States—Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat—where anti-conversion laws exist at present, they completely contravene the right to equality, the rule of law and the freedom of religion. Permission from the State government is required only to convert to Christianity or Islam. It is important to remember in this context that two anti-conversion Bills were introduced in Parliament when Jawaharlal Nehru was the Prime Minister and he did not allow them to be passed. Also, during the Constituent Assembly debates on Article 25 [of the Constitution], both T.T. Krishnamachari and K.M. Munshi argued in favour of the right to propagate religion to be included as part of the fundamental right to religion. There are many laws such as the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, 1956, (Section 6), the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956, (Sections 7,8, 9,11, 18-24), the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, (Section 13, 13A), and the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, (Section 26) which create disincentives for Hindus converting to other religions and are aimed at keeping lower-caste Hindus within the fold of Hinduism.
Also, under Article 341 [of the Constitution], if a Dalit converts to Christianity, he is deprived of the benefits of reservation. This Article has been challenged in the Supreme Court, but the former government never filed a petition stating what its position was on the issue. Anti-conversion law is only an Orwellian name for a law against Islam and Christianity. The reason the Hindutva forces want Muslims and Christians to convert is that they don’t consider them equal citizens. For us to become equal citizens, we have to reconvert. This is inherent to the Hindutva ideology.
To what extent do you think the government is passively or actively complicit in the process of conversions happening at present? Could steps have been taken much earlier to rein in these fringe groups?
Since the BJP has come to power, Hindutva elements have become more emboldened. They feel that they want to have their share of the pie as they have brought this government to power. The government will never take any steps to rein in the fringe elements because it derives its power from them.
There is a line of argument that “love jehad” is a form of religious conversion, which has takers not just amongst the fringe groups but also among the middle classes. What is your response to this phenomenon?
Love jehad is a complete falsehood, there is no truth whatsoever in this.
What role do you think parties of minorities can play?
We have to oppose such steps as the government is trying to introduce an anti-conversion law. Also, we have been successful in dispelling and rebutting their false arguments about the change in demography because of so-called conversions.
The emergence of the MIM has been read by some analysts as a form of “minority” communalism, which is only feeding on the sense of insecurity among Muslims. Your response.
We [the MIM] fought the Maharashtra elections on the plank of inclusive development. We took up issues such as the low allocation of government funds for minorities, the large number of undertrials in jails, and the appalling socio-economic indicators of Muslims.
For example, in Aurangabad, where our MLA had won, we promised to open a passport office in the city. During our campaign, we also highlighted the fact that Maharashtra had a lower allocation of funds, about Rs.300 crore, compared with Telangana in its State budget for minority schemes. Telangana allocates about Rs.1,000 crore for schemes meant for minorities. Also, in Maharashtra at present 37 per cent of the undertrials are Muslim youth and conviction has happened in only 17 per cent of the cases.
The secular parties in Maharashtra have lost votes in their traditional bastions—Dalits, tribal people, etc. When their traditional voters have deserted them and some of the Muslims and Dalits have moved to the MIM, they say that we [the MIM] are not secular. We are looking at expanding in both Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal now. In Uttar Pradesh, the recent developments have exposed the facade of secularism of the Samajwadi Party government. Also, in West Bengal, following the Burdwan blasts, a number of madrasas are being targeted. Muslims are generally feeling let down by the Trinamool Congress government as no substantial development has happened on the ground.