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ICC Note:

Christians promise to continue the work of the gospel despite the adoption of a new anti-conversion law in the state of Rajasthan.

AsiaNews (04/08/06) – “This bill will not stop us, our work will continue,” said Cardinal Toppo, chairman of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, in response to yesterday’s approval of an anti-conversion law in the state of Rajasthan. “This is the sixth state that has approved such a law. In the other five states, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Chhattisgarh, our mission has not stopped and our witness has not been diminished or changed. What should Rajasthan be any different?”

The decree, according to information released by officials of the Indian state of Rajasthan, was approved because conversion activities had been creating problems. The law orders the immediate arrest of anyone charged with conversion even before investigations start, and does not allow release on bail. The bill imposes a two-to-five year prison sentence and a fine of up to 50,000 rupees ( US ,120) for anyone found guilty of forced or fraudulent conversions. Under the terms of the bill, a person’s original religion would be determined by the religion of his or her ancestors.

“We do not fall into the category of fraud and forceful conversions, we do not infringe on the rights of any human person. The dignity of humankind is fundamental to our mission,” continued Cardinal Toppo in his exclusive interview with AsiaNews. “The government can do as it likes, but our work goes on. They can pass hundreds of bills and laws, but this will only strengthen our mission and vocation.

“I am proud to be Indian, I am proud of our constitution which gives us the right to practice our faith and our freedom to be Christian. We are the citizens of a great nation, why should I be worried? Freedom of choice is enshrined in our constitution and this assures the triumph of truth. And nothing is more powerful than the mystery that the Church will celebrate next week. Even the timing of the bill’s approval is symbolic. It is exactly a week from Good Friday, as we start the holiest week of the year. We will face this bill with faith”.

Many human rights groups have slammed the new law. Fr Cedric Prakash, a human rights activist, told AsiaNews: “The decision to pass this law in Rajasthan reflects the mentality of the government of the state. They want to draw attention away from real problems like food, clothes, lodging, water shortage and unemployment. A conversion is a matter of a person’s conscience and can never be forced or fraudulently obtained. Besides there are more important laws in the country that call for respect, for example those tackling child marriage and female foeticide. The Rajasthan government should apply its mind to these real problems.”

John Dayal, chairman of the All India Catholic Union, told AsiaNews: “We fully intend to challenge the law in the High Court of Rajasthan and in the Supreme Court if necessary. We will also intensify our campaign against this law and similar laws approved in the past.”