India Question:
Permission to
Change Religion?

Dwayne Walker

From: Dwayne Walker
To: Positive Atheism
Date: Saturday, November 14, 1998
Subject: India Question?

I visited your web page after reading an article in yesterday’s LA Times about Christian missionaries being killed (four nuns raped) due to Hindu extremists fighting against cultural imperialism.

I’d like to know if this, in any way, affects the work of the Atheist Centre in India. If a Hindu changes his or her mind and becomes an Atheist, does that person have to get permission from the state to change his or her mind (like a person must if she or he changes religion)? And does this person risk being persecuted?

I realize Atheism isn’t a religion, so you can’t claim it as a ‘religious conversion’. But as a person might be leaving a national religion, who knows what the government might think?


Dwayne Walker


From: “Positive Atheism”
To: Dwayne Walker
Subject: Re: India Question?
Date: Friday, 13 November 1998

Atheist Centre is huge, much larger than any Christian charitable organization in India. However, this does not prevent violence against atheists. Atheist Centre follows some of the principles of Satyagraha, as instituted by Mohandas K Gandhi. Gandhiji was a friend of the current director, Lavanam, and of the founder, Gora. Satyagraha, among other things, insists on the right to insist on honesty in social matters.

Gandhi’s version of Satyagraha failed partly because he refused to secularize it. He was unwilling to let go of the convenience wrought by packaging it with religious overtones: this made “selling” the concept a virtually effortless endeavor. However, I understand that he was probably in the process of secularizing his system, at least modestly, when he was assassinated.

Lavanam tells me that the Hindu government is the biggest evil to befall India since its independence in 1948. I can only inmagine the differences that have ensued since the ascendence of the Hindu government. The Hindu government is so subtle that Moslems are “playing footsies” with it, and are likely getting favors such as immunity in return.

I can’t see Atheist Centre playing any games of collusion with a Hindu government. Its commitment to the atheistic (secularized) version of Satyagraha would prevent this. However, the fact that Atheist Centre is one of the largest philanthropic organizations in India probably helps its standing with the Hindu government.

We can only hope that what happened in Afghanistan does not happen in India — or in the United States with the (sbastardized) Republican Party. We know that a party cannot overturn a constitution in a day, and hopefully, what happened to Fob James in Alabama will happen in other afflicted lands.

I will try to submit your question to Lavanam next time we speak (calls are almost us$2.00 per minute from here) in hopes that he will provide a clearer answer.

Meanwhile, check the article I scanned out of The Wall Street Journal, at:

Cliff Walker
“Positive Atheism” Magazine


Thanks for the reply regarding potential persecution in India. I just read a few chapters from your web page about Ghandi and am fascinated by the Atheist Centre in India. My group, Atheists United in Los Angeles, sells some of these books from their book table. But your web page is really opening my eyes.

Anyway, I’ll look into those articles you mentioned.


Dwayne Walker


I don’t want to give the impression that persecution is occurring left and right in India. I don’t think that is the case. If the articles you mentioned are the ones I think they are, the ones written by Mark O’Keefe of the Portland Oregonian, I have read them and will post them soon. O’Keefe was covering only the worst case examples, and admitted he was focusing only on the persecution of Christians. (Gee, I wonder which religious sect O’Keefe belongs to!)

In India, atheism and scientific method are widespread. Many educated Brahmins give only lip-service to Hinduism. Also, atheism has quite a long historical precedence in India, being the historical birthplace of organized atheism. Thus, most wars that allege to be along religious lines tend, rather, to be turf wars and the territorial squabbles common to almost all vertebrates.

The nature of Hinduism tends towards the acceptance of another person’s lot, rather than towards persecuting others to get them to change their ways. True, one who leaves the clan will likely be ostracized; the family members will stop associating with that person. But the nature of Hinduism will tend to accept rather than to change.

However, in any group you will find extremists who will take things into their own hands and exact their own form of “justice” from others. It was this kind of religious nut who assassinated Gandhi. But he was the exception rather than the rule, pointing to the likelihood that he had some sort of mental disorder.

Cliff Walker
“Positive Atheism” Magazine