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Hindu Party Promises Anti-Conversion Law In Himachal Pradesh , India

You are free to disseminate the following news. We request that you reference ICC (International Christian Concern) and include our web address Contact Jeff King President, 301-989-1708, [email protected]

(September 27, 2006) The Washington-DC based human rights group, International Christian Concern (ICC) has just learned that the radical Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has promised to introduce anti-conversion legislation in Himachal Pradesh state if it wins the upcoming state assembly elections. The BJP has already introduced similar laws in three other states.

The announcement was made by the leader of the opposition in Himachal Pradesh and former chief minister, Prem Kumar Dhumal, in a press conference in Nahan district on September 21.

“After coming to power in Himachal Pradesh, the BJP would bring legislations against religious conversion and slaughtering of cows (considered holy by Hindus) as the present government had completely failed to protect the rights of the Hindus,” national daily The Indian Express quoted Dhumal as saying.

Dhumal claimed that Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, of the Congress party, had assured the legislature that the rights of the Hindus would be protected and that no “forced” conversions would be allowed, “but this had been continuing in the state and the government had failed to do anything about it.”

Dhumal was not available for comments.

Talking to ICC, Dr. Sajan K. George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians, said the promise of an anti-conversion law by the BJP leader will “trigger hate against Christians.”

“We fear that such statements will vitiate the atmosphere and the radicals will take law into their own hands. The storm troopers of the saffron brigade (Hindu fundamentalist organizations) will unleash terror on minorities,” he added.

The BJP had earlier announced that it would enact a law banning conversions in Himachal Pradesh in 2003 before the then forthcoming elections, but it did not come to power. The next elections are due in 2008.

Himachal Pradesh is one of the states with the smallest Christian population, and many Hindu fundamentalist groups are active in the state. Of the total population of over six million, less than 8,000 are Christian.

Supporters of Hindu groups Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal had attacked 62-year-old Pastor Feroz Masih of the Gospel for Asia organization on November 4, 2005.

Recently, the BJP made anti-conversion laws more stringent in three states ruled by it. In Gujarat , the party amended the law on September 19, in Chhattisgarh on August 3 and Madhya Pradesh on July 25. However, the governors of these states are yet to give assent to the amendments bills.

The BJP had also promised to introduce an anti-conversion bill in Jharkhand state, but lost their majority in the house and subsequently lost power. The party then promised similar legislation in Punjab state, which will have elections in the near future.

Archbishop Stanislaus Fernandes of Gujarat ’s Gandhinagar Archdiocese on September 20 wrote to the state governor raising objections to the anti-conversion law.

“Article 25 of the Constitution guarantees every citizen the freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion. Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights asserts, ‘Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance’,” said the letter.

Fernandes said there was sufficient provision in the Criminal Procedure Code to deal with any matters of force, fraud or corruption in general, and one did not need a new Act to deal with conversions.

“We would like to know if the government has been able to find a single case of ‘forced’ conversion in Gujarat ,” he said.

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