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ICC Note:

The Rajasthan governor’s decision to refuse to sign the so-called Religious Freedom Bill is an answer to prayer, as the state has become increasingly hostile to Christians.

Christian Today (06/23/06) – Jaipur , INDIA – Christians in Rajasthan, always under fear of religious persecution, can heave a sigh of relief as Rajasthan’s Governor Ms. Pratibha Patil has turned down the “draconic” Religious Freedom Bill, which was hurriedly passed by the Rajasthan State Legislative Assembly.

Under the Bill, any person caught trying to convert people could face between two to five years imprisonment and a fine of Rs. 50,000 (£600).

While Christians felt the Bill was aimed at targeting the minority communities in Rajasthan, human rights watchdogs said that the Bill was meant to appease Hindu hardliners.

“It is against the Indian Constitution and curtails a person’s freedom. We feel that it will be misused against us,” said Bishop of Jaipur Oswald Lewis, welcoming the Governor’s decision.

According to a source close to the development, the Governor had refused to sign the legislation saying that certain provisions in the bill directly or indirectly affected a citizen’s fundamental right of religion.

The state assembly passed the bill last month, amidst protests raised by Christian and human rights advocacy groups.

According to news reports, members of the BJP-led Government in Rajasthan have not taken the Governor’s decision kindly.

Rajasthan’s law minister, Ghanshyam Tiwari, said, “It was the constitutional obligation of the governor to sign the bill that was passed by the legislative assembly.”

Some Hindu hardliner groups like Vishwa Hindu Parishad have also criticised Ms. Patil’s decision, with its state chief Jugal Kishore saying sending back the bill unsigned was an insult to democracy.

Ever since the legislation was introduced in the State Assembly, critics had called upon Ms. Pratibha Patil to protect the rights of religious minorities such as Christians, Muslims and lower-caste Hindus.

“We are happy that the Governor took a bold step,” said Joseph D’souza, president of the Christian advocacy group, the All India Christian Council (AICC).

“There is no need for such a law in Rajasthan as there are no forceful conversion activities taking place here,” said Rajasthan Christian Fellowship’s Father Coelho…[Go To Full Story]