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ICC Note:

The push for an anti-conversion law in Rajasthan reveals a deep insecurity in Hindu radicals. How can a group of Christians which count for 0.07 percent of the state’s population threaten a well-entrenched Hindu majority?

Christian Today India (05/10/06) Jaipur – Indian Christian leaders have said that a bill proposed by a local government to ban what Hindu activists call forced religious conversions would be used to harass the tiny community further.

Officials and activists in Rajasthan say that hundreds of tribals and low-caste Hindus are being converted to Christianity by missionaries each month, some by force and others by the lure of money.

The state government which is led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party plans to adopt legislation in the current session of the state assembly to ban such conversions.

The proposed law calls for jail terms up to five years for those found guilty of forcing or encouraging others to convert.

Anand Chaudhary, president of the Rajasthan Bible Institute, said the proposed measure was “foolish. “There was no need to bring in any bill. How can a miniscule population of 0.07 percent convert a majority?” he said.

Christians constitute less than 40,000 people out of Rajasthan’s population of 56 million and make up less than three percent of India ‘s total population of 1.1 billion.

“It is not just mischievous but downright unconstitutional,” said Abraham Mathai, general secretary of the AllIndia Christian Council (AICC). “The right to follow or change to a particular faith can never be unlawful in a civilised society.”

“Should the bill be passed, one fears that it will be the stick used to harass minorities in a state where they already feel insecure,” Mathai added.

Religious conflicts in India commonly pit Hindus, who make up 80 percent of the population, against Muslims who constitute about 13 percent. But in recent years there have been attacks on Christian chapels and missionaries, blamed on Hindu hardliners.

Rajendra Singh Rathore, Rajasthan’s parliamentary affairs minister, said the bill was prompted by the discovery of an increasing number of forced conversions.

“Such conversations always remain a threat to the law and order situation in the state,” he said.

Similar laws are already on the books in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat , Tamil Nadu and Orissa. (Reuters)