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ICC Note:

Urgent prayer needed as Christian groups lobby the Governor of Rajasthan to not give his assent to the anti-Conversion Bill passed by the state assembly on April 7.

Christian Today India (04/19/06) – Indian Christian Organizations have urged the Governor of Rajasthan in Jaipur not to give assent to anti Conversion Bill, which was passed by the Rajasthan state assembly on April 7.

Christians have urged the Governor not to sign the so-called Rajasthan Swatantrya Vidheyak (Rajasthan Freedom of Religion Bill 2006) and have stated it as unconstitutional and could lead to an “explosive situation” in the state.

In an appeal on behalf of the Christian Council, the Catholic Union and the Justice and Peace Commission, among others, National Integration Council member John Dayal said the Governor should use the statutory powers to reject and return the Bill and not to make it law.

Dayal presented to the Governor detailed legal opinion by Supreme Court Senior Advocate Rajeev Dhawan, a noted senior advocate, explaining that the bill went against Constitutional guarantees and would tarnish the image of Rajasthan and India . The texts have also been sent to the Prime Minister of India and the President of India.

The bill too loosely defines critical terms such as “allurement”, “force,” and “fraudulent conversion,” Dayal explained. It also gives extra discretionary powers to the state administration. The ruling largest Hindu nationalist party, Bharatiya Janata Party, the extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and other affiliated organizations, could use this power as a tool to harass Christians.

“Christians must petition the Rajasthan High Court as soon as the anti-conversion law is enforced, challenging its constitutionality and other flaws,” Lansinglu Rongmei, a Supreme Court lawyer and secretary of the Christian Legal Association of India said.

The bill proposes imprisonment for two-to-five years and/or a maximum fine of 50,000 rupees (US$ 1,107) for both the converter and the converted, if the conversion is found to be “unlawful”. An offence under the bill would be non-bailable.

The bill, however, rejects the term “reconversion.” It defines “conversion” as renouncing one’s own religion and adopting another – but explains that “own religion” means “the religion of one’s forefathers.”

According to Rongmei, this interpretation violates Article 14 of the Indian Constitution, which promises equality before law for all.

Entire civil society of Rajasthan have expressed their concern at the Bill and its contents, its intention and impious motives, which are nothing less than to divide the people on religious lines and injure the secular polity of the state and the nation.

Dayal told the Governor “such medieval and backward looking bills go counter to every single International covenant, which India has signed, and bring a bad name to the country. This Bill will also have an impact on the fair reputation and goodwill of the state of Rajasthan which is now advertising heavily in Western Countries to both improve its potential as a tourist destination, and as a modern state on the move inviting foreign capital, collaboration and businesses for its economic growth and the improvement of the lot of its otherwise exceedingly poor people.”

“The responsibility lies on you as Governor to check this backward slide and this disastrous move. The Constitution gives you full powers. There are many precedents where Governors have moved and prevent unjust Acts from becoming the law. We therefore request you to please Reject and return the Bill when the Government presents it before you for your formal Assent to make it law. Please also advise the Government of the State not to go through with such divisive and coercive legislation which is bad in law,” the appeal said.

Dayal also sent it to the Governor apart from the legal opinion the Rajasthan Freedom of Religion Bill by Supreme Court Senior Advocate Rajeev Dhawan, legal opinion of CSW International advocacy group, and the report on Kota sent earlier to the Prime Minister of India.

Rajasthan is the sixth state where anti-conversion bill has been approved. It is already in force in states of Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Chattisgarh.

The Rajasthan government, ruled by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), first announced plans to adopt anti-conversion legislation on February 23 last year, after Hindu extremists violently attacked EMI Bible students.