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Church Allays Some Fears over Madhya Pradesh Bill

ICC Note:

Archbishop points out that some of the new restrictions on conversion in Madhya Pradesh do not conflict with Jesus’ commands. However, these new restrictions do give radical Hindus the opportunity to make false accusations against Christians more easily.

India (07/30/06) Bhopal – Bhopal’s archbishop Pascal Topno said Sunday that certain amendments to the state’s Freedom of Religion Act did ‘not bother’ him.

The Madhya Pradesh assembly passed a bill Tuesday to amend the 1968 Act to prevent ‘religious conversions by force or allurement’.

Topno asked, ‘Why should we be bothered over the amendments, whatever they be, when we do not convert any one by force or allurement?’

‘Jesus does not permit us to do so,’ Topno told IANS.

However, the Christian community and some political parties here have voiced fears over the constitutional right to freedom of religion being encroached upon.

Madhya Pradesh Christian Association president Indira Iyengar claimed the state government had brought the amendments to encourage sectarian forces.

The bill makes it mandatory for any individual intending to convert to inform the district magistrate or an empowered executive magistrate through a declaration about his intention to voluntarily convert a month in advance.

Failing this, the converting person would be fined Rs.1,000 or imprisoned.

A priest failing to intimate the administration in the prescribed manner, stating the name and address of the person being converted and the date and venue of the conversion, will be punished with imprisonment up to a year or a fine of Rs.5,000 or both.

After being informed by the priest and the person opting for conversion, the police will verify whether it was under force or allurement.

Till now the act prohibited conversion from one religion to another through force, inducement or cheating, but there was no provision for advance information.

While the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government claimed that existing laws were insufficient to check conversions by force or allurement, the Congress, which later submitted a memorandum to Governor Balram Jakhar asking him to return the bill, termed the move as against religious freedom and human rights.