Envoy Sparks Storm Of Conversion Controversy; Ritu Raj Subedi

British ambassador to Nepal Andrew Sparkes has sparked a storm of controversies. In his open letter to the Constituent Assembly members, he egged them on for ensuring the right to conversion in the new statute. His comment came at a time when a considerable size of Nepali population is smouldering against the decision to turn the Hindu nation into a secular state in 2006 and when the Himalayan nation has been struggling to have a new constitution. The first CA collapsed without delivering the statute and the second one is seemingly heading for the similar fate. The major parties are sharply divided and are unable to forge consensus on the thorny issues of the statute. Anybody can experience Nepal’s precarious political dilemma. And at this sensitive phase of transition, British envoy just threw a stone into the troubled waters only to raise the eyebrows of many.

Controversial Remark

Although his embassy regretted his controversial remark, it riled the masses that have kept mum until recently over the growing interventionist acts of the foreign players on the Nepalese soil. When Nepal was declared a secular state, a section of people had registered their silent opposition to the move. They had a plausible argument- secularism was introduced without due and democratic procedure and without consulting over 80 per cent Hindu population of the country. That Nepal was made secular state at the behest of the foreign elements has been their central line of logic, and the major parties have failed to furnish their credible answers to them. They have been demanding a referendum to settle the dispute. At a time when the parties could not justify that their decision to usher Nepal into secular state was transparent and based on popular mandate, Sparkes’ statement only gave credence to a polemic that Nepal’s secular and federal journey was taking place under a diabolic design of the foreign power centres.

Since Nepal became secular, hundreds of thousands of ‘innocent people’ reportedly converted to the Christian followers through ‘monetary inducements.’ That Nepal has become a fertile ground for the conversion of sweeping scale has been justified by none other than a Christian organisation.  According to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, Nepal is the fastest Christianity growing country in the world. In its report published in 2013, the Centre said that Nepal topped the list of 20 countries that have the highest percentage of Christianity Average Annual Growth Rate (AAGR).  Nepal registered 10.93 per cent Christian AAGR followed by China, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The Centre predicts that the Christian population in Nepal will double within six and a half years. In 1970, the number of Christian followers here stood at 0.1 per cent and it will reach 3.8 per cent in 2020, it states. It is estimated that the Christian followers are around 2 per cent. It is interesting to note that net Christian conversion rate was 8.74 per cent against 2.19 per cent population growth rate in Nepal. It said that the primary growth factor in Asia is massive conversion. “China, Nepal, Cambodia and Mongolia have high conversation rates among their indigenous people.  The majority of becoming Christians comes from non-religious, Buddhist and Hindu backgrounds,” the Centre said.

Under his ‘Look East Policy,’ the Pope of Vatican had reportedly vowed to bring 100 million people in Asia to the fold of Christianity by 2025. Is Sparkes’s tendentious plea for inserting the right to conversion provision in the new statute the part of Pope’s pledge? This mission cannot be met just placing a Bible or Christian literature in the hand of its prospective followers. It is not that the people must be bribed to make them tergiversate. The number of people, who change their faith voluntarily or after gaining enlightenment from other religions, may not be higher.  Until certain enticements and inducements are offered to the people, a large scale of conversion is not possible. As the above report disclosed, the rate of conversion is high among the indigenous people. There cannot be any suitable constituency than the ethnic, Dalit and impoverished hinterland for the religious hawks to prey on. There has long been perceived doubt that some Western nations are funding for the conversions in a clandestine manner and the report has corroborate this misgiving. The critics of conversion have argued that the ethnic movement and the conversion drive in Nepal have become two facets of the same coin because the funding for the two campaigns comes from the same sources. It is claimed that the Nepal Transition to Peace Fund that is backed by some Nordic and Western European nations are promoting ethnic/indigenous cause and Christianity in Nepal simultaneously.

Secularism simply means that the state detaches itself from any religious affairs. It is beyond doubt that religious freedom is a prerequisite for a healthy democratic and multicultural society. But, it is a gross mistake to use secularism as a license for conversion. Here is a sheer irony – many of the western nations are not secular but their diplomats here lecture us to be secular to the extent that the mission of the Vatican can be easily achieved. Envoy Sparkes and his country, the UK, is a glaring example. The UK that has 59 per cent of Christian population does not have a written constitution but its political tradition strongly suggests that it is not a secular nation. The Queen is the head of the Church of England. She, as per the recommendation of the Prime Minister, appoints 15 representatives of the Church of England to the House of Lords.

Mind Your Own Business

There is another classic example to show how anti-secular the UK is. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair was Catholic but when he became the Prime Minister, he converted himself to Protestant because he did not want to come into conflict with the Protestant Queen. He was a Protestant throughout his PM tenure. One month before he was to leave office, he visited the Pope in Rome, narrated his story and sought suggestion from him, “I want to be Catholic again. Could I be?” “Yes, you can adopt your previous faith,” the master of the Vatican had given the nod. Tony became Catholic again. This religious saga of Britain’s once famed Prime Minister speaks volumes that every nation has its own cultural value and system that guides the politics and entire society. When the Prime Minister of his own nation had to go through the rigmarole of religion to serve his office in the Downing Street, How did envoy Sparkes gather moral authority to remind us about the UN Charter on religious right and preach us  to do this or that in the new constitution? It would be wise if our foreign diplomats minded their own business and let our transitional politics take its own course.      


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