Christian Today India (12/26/05) The Chief Minister of India s eastern state, Jharkhand, has announced his desire of introducing legislation on anti-conversion in the state to safeguard the rights of the tribals a move that may threaten the activities of the Christian missionaries working in the region.
While addressing a tribal rally, Chief Minister Arjun Munda said that he would bring about legislation to ban conversion in the state to protect tribal culture and identity.
Though most legislators have approved to Mundas proposal, Enos Ekka, Jharkhands only state minister who is a Christian, is strongly against it.
“I do not feel it is appropriate to introduce such a bill. In a secular country like India everyone has the right to live on the call of his conscience. If anybody wants to change his religion willingly he should not be prevented from doing so,” Ekka said in a press statement. “People should not be bound by any law. We supported the government on the condition that no different attitude will be adopted towards Christians and Muslims.”
Ekka, who has supported the NDA government in Jharkhand as an independent MLA, and is the State Minister of Rural Development, also said that the legislation is meaningless as conversions rarely took place in the state.
According to the regional daily, The Telegraph, though church leaders in the state claimed that they did not have the exact figures of conversions in the state, yet, the number was unlikely to exceed 20 during the last decade.
“The government cannot stop any one from converting willingly. [Chief Minister] Munda himself is not a tribal. In my view there is no need for such law in the state,” Indo-Asian News Service (IANS) quoted Bishop Vincent Barwa, Auxiliary Bishop of the Ranchi diocese, as saying. The bishop also expressed his concerns that the anti-conversion law would project his churchs activities in poor image.
Meanwhile, political parties like the Congress Party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), and Left (CPI-M) parties have also criticized the move. Sudhir Mahto, an opposition leader of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) party, told IANS that the BJPs real face has surfaced. Now the party wants to create social tension in the name of religion. Development has taken backseat in the state.
According to the 2001 Census, out of Jharkhands population of around 27 million, 1.2 million are Christians. Tribals constitute around 27 percent of the states population.