Freedom to Change One's Religion is Fundamental Right: Ansari

New Delhi
Freedom to Change One's Religion is Fundamental Right: Ansari

Amid row over conversions, Vice President Hamid Ansari today said the freedom to change one's religion or belief is a fundamental right and asserted that no religion should be given an official status.

Lauding the Indian approach of secularism "which does not erect a wall of separation of religion and state but proposes a 'principled distance' between them", he said there is also a gap between commitment and practice in the approach.

"It (Indian secularism) does not, must not, give official status to any religion or accept its hegemonic position. Instead, 'it is an ethically sensitive negotiated settlement between diverse groups and divergent values'.

"It is in consonance with Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 which stipulates that everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance," Ansari said.

He was addressing the 'Annual International Studies Convention' on the theme 'Some Thoughts on the Sacred and Secular in International Relations'.

His comments assume significance as these come amid a row over religious conversions.

Ansari said secularism in some Western countries, which is premised on homogenous, single-religion, are facing challenges from emigrant communities of other faiths, which is resulting into a "new multi-religiosity" that is threatening to "throw western secularism into turmoil".

He opined that in these circumstances, the Indian approach of securlarism could be an alternate model, which does not create a barrier of separation of religion and state, but proposes a 'principled distance' between them.

Ansari said since the Indian context of secularism took shape in a multi-religious society, it also addresses the issues of intra-religious oppression and inter-religious domination.

"Different societies have developed their own versions of it in theory and practice. Some of these in the Western world premised on homogenous, single-religion, citizen bodies are today facing challenges from emigrant communities of other faiths; as a result, this new multi-religiosity is threatening to throw western secularism into turmoil.

"It is here that the distinctive feature of the Indian approach to secularism needs to be explored for an alternate model. It does not, as Rajeev Bhargava (JNU scholar) has pointed out, erect a strict wall of separation between religion and state but, instead, proposes a principled distance between them," Ansari said.

The Vice President, however, added that there are some drawbacks to the approach and they emanate from gaps between "commitment and practise".

"At times commitment is sought to be cushioned by clinging to the past and its aphorisms expressed in a different context; at others, public perceptions or prejudices are manipulated to put forth a mix of religion and politics in the name of strident nationalism.

"Both detract from, or subvert, secular values. A truly modern approach should eschew both and go beyond mere tolerance and religio-philosophical notions to positive acceptance and accommodation on the basis of equal citizenship in actual practice," Ansari added.

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