Swami Agnivesh has written to Pope Benedict XVI suggesting a moratorium on the religious conversion of "unlettered tribals" and children who cannot make an "informed choice".
The swami, who has been widely known for taking anti-Hindutva positions and not been a stranger to controversy - including his high-profile break with Team Anna recently - may have stirred another controversy with this letter. Here, his position has an uncanny similarity with, among others, Hindutva ideologues opposed to conversion.
"We should advocate a moratorium on converting persons who are not yet mature to weigh options, including the option not to align with any particular denominational religion. After all, how can an infant or an unlettered tribal exercise an informed choice?" Agnivesh's letter says.
Agnivesh wrote the letter in response to a letter he got from the Pope on Diwali, which celebrated religious freedom, including the "freedom to change one's religion". Disapproving of this sentence, Agnivesh replied: "This is bound to ignite strong reactions in a country like India. We have suffered a great deal at the hands of persons and organisations who have insisted that the only way people can be saved is for them to give up their own faiths and adopt the faith that is being proffered to them by missionaries and mullahs."
Agnivesh, however, insisted that he was saying all this as a friend who had been in the forefront of taking up the causes of people of other religions being targeted by Hindu fanatics.
The Arya Samaj, to which Agnivesh swears loyalty, was a 19th century Hindu reformist movement speaking against caste hierarchies, idol-worship, superstitions and religious formalism and celebrating the Vedas as the prime sources of knowledge.
It, however, was critical of Christian missionaries and often had hostile terms with Indian Islam. Agnivesh has usually espoused a more 'secular' line.