Has the UPA Government covertly given foreign missionaries a free hand to proselytise and convert ‘heathens’ in India? Persons seeking passport services in November 2012 were startled to discover that, without any discussion in Parliament or in public, the UPA Government has quietly relaxed restrictions on the entry and stay of foreign missionaries coming to the country. These restrictions were enforced on the recommendations of the Niyogi Commission, appointed to investigate the activities of missionaries in Madhya Pradesh, which submitted its report to the Union Government in 1956.
This backdoor act has set alarm bells ringing in many quarters. The news is true. The missionary visa is issued to those going to India “for a religious purpose”. It takes up to three months to process, and the duration of stay is decided by the Government of India, which means it is open to discretion!
A visit to the passport office website and visa service clearly states, at Item 17: Missionary Visa: Visa to foreign missionaries, other than those holding ‘No objection to return to India Endorsements’, are granted only after clearance by concerned Ministry/ Department in India.
This is further clarified in Item 24: Registration: Foreigners entering India on Student visa, Employment visa, Research visa, Missionary visa valid for more than 180 days are required to get themselves registered with the concerned Foreigners Registration Office within 14 days of their arrival in India. Foreigners holding any other type of visa valid for more than 180 days do not require registration if the period of their stay in India on each visit is less than 180 days. However, they must register themselves within 180 days of arrival if the period of their continuous stay exceeds 180 days. For more details, see the website of MHA or Bureau of Immigration (www.immigrationindia.nic.in).
It is also learnt that the Government has decided to end the requirement for Protected Area Permit (PAP) needed by foreigners visiting Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland, three States where the Church is well entrenched since the colonial era, and where the missionaries want to expand the separatist agenda.
It is pertinent that the website of the Ministry of Home Affairs does not mention the ‘Missionary Visa’ at all. Nor does the Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO) where foreigners must register themselves if staying beyond 180 days, mention the Missionary visa. This is revealed only in the passport section, and is thus not known to the public at large, but word would have been spread through the international network of the church. The consular services of the Indian missions abroad would have received instructions regarding the processing of Missionary visa.
The creation of a special category of visa for missionaries may legitimately be considered as official patronage for Christian conversions in India. This violates the constitutional provision that the state would have no religion, and would treat all citizens as equal without discrimination on grounds of caste, religion, gender, or any other reason. The missionary visa in effect makes India a country where the state – or at least the regime of the day – has declared Christianity as a state-promoted and favoured religion, which has to be privileged even in violation of the Constitution and the nation’s foundational ethos.
Hitherto, foreign missionaries have entered India by the back door, on tourist visas, and have been deported if caught preaching or proselytizing, as this is contrary to the stated objectives of their visa. Foreigners who joined the missionary-directed protests at Kudankulam nuclear plant were also rounded up and swiftly deported on grounds of violating their visa protocol.
Now, however, the Indian Government is offering a carte blanche for foreign missionaries to undertake conversion activities with impunity. All that the various church denominations have to do is ensure a regular stream of padris to avail of the Missionary visas on continuous basis, and thus the respective churches can have an unending supply of foreign missionaries to enthrall their target audiences. This is bound to ensure higher funding of Indian missions by foreign agencies engaged in proselytisation.
It is truly astonishing that despite so many brutal experiences with missionaries, most notably in the north eastern states and Orissa, where two respected sadhus, Swami Shanti Kali and Swami Laxmanananda, were gunned down with AK-47 rifles for resisting conversions, not to mention the painful legacy of the Goa Inquisition, the UPA sees fit to encourage missionaries to descend upon India and convert vulnerable groups. Politically, the entry of foreign missionaries also has the potential to destabilize the districts and state where missionaries operate, as has been seen in several places.
The missionary visa is nothing but a blatant attack on India’s foundational ethos, civilisational integrity, and Hindu community which is the target of missionary machinations. It assaults the fundamental right of the Hindu community not to be trespassed upon by evangelists and to practice their native faith in peace and dignity.
In sharp contrast to its solicitude towards Christian missionaries, the UPA’s attitude towards the Hindu community is best gauged from the attempt to impose the draconian Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill, 2011.
One wonders if the haste to encourage missionaries to descend upon India has anything to do with the well known rejection of Christianity in large parts of the Western world.