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Himachal Pradesh: anti-conversion law “useless and politically motivated”

ICC Note: Christians react to the signing into law of an anti-conversion bill approved by the parliament of Himachal Pradesh in December by calling it “useless” and approved solely “for political means.”

by Nirmala Carvalho

2/22/07 India (AsiaNews) – A “useless” law approved solely “for political means” by a group of politicians who did not even bother to submit evidence to back their accusations. This is what the Bishop of Shimla, Mgr Gerald Mathias, thinks about the enactment of an anti-conversion law in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh.

The law approved by Parliament in December was signed yesterday by the governor V.S. Kokje. Himachal Pradesh has thus become the first Indian state led by the democratic Congress Party to approve a law on conversions. Sonia Gandhi, Congress leader, last year wrote to the country’s Christian community to say that her party was against such laws. What’s more, analysts have said MPs approved the law without presenting substantial reasons to back their decision.

The bishop of Shimla told AsiaNews: “Approving this law was totally unnecessary. Congress professes to be a secular party but it has approved this law that discriminates against religions. There have been absolutely no cases of forced conversion on a large scale. Even Dalits here are very few. This law will serve politicians to make people forget about real problems of the state and to focus attention on non-existent conversions.”

According to the stipulations of the decree, continued the bishop, “converting women and persons belonging to Dalit and tribal communities is punishable by three years in prison and high fines. This is a means to block the missionary and social activities of the Church, which helps the most vulnerable members of society with its health care centres and schools.”

The Church of Himachal Pradesh , like the rest of India , “is at the service of the poor and oppressed. If fundamentalists want to strike us with their words and actions, let them do so. But we will continue our work because ultimately truth will prevail. The most important thing for us is that the poor whom we serve know our real intentions and feelings.”