State Hurdles Over Block Of Anti-Conversion Bill
Gujarat governor refuses to sign bill, but government to implement older version.
8/6/07 India (Compass Direct News) The state government of Gujarat has decided to implement the dormant anti-conversion law, passed by the state assembly in 2003, after the governors refusal to approve the anti-conversion amendment bill of 2006.
The state government ruled by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on August 1 officially declared that it would reactivate the 2003 anti-conversion law that could not be implemented at the time due to legal complications, reported The Indian Express.
The daily quoted the BJP government as saying in a statement, The state has been specifically targeted by some foreign powers for religious conversions, as they convert the innocent and the poor using inducements and threats. Strong nationalistic political will is needed to counter such forces, but unfortunately the Opposition Congress (party) does not believe in preserving national identity.
The statement also claimed that the decision was in keeping with the national and societal interest.
Violation of Religious Freedom
The BJPs declaration came a day after Gov. Nawal Kishore Sharma returned the Gujarat Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2006, saying the proposed measure violated the right to religious freedom.
The bill stipulated that people from the Jain and Buddhist faiths would be construed as denominations of Hindu religion a provision that was opposed by leaders from the Jain and Buddhist communities, as even the government census distinguishes between Hinduism and the two faiths.
It also sought to exclude from the definition of conversion the renouncing of one denomination to adopt another.
The Gujarat Freedom of Religion Bill was initially passed by the state assembly on March 26, 2003. The government, however, was not able to frame implementing rules, reportedly because of objections by the state legal department over some of its provisions. To clear the hurdles, the government last September 19 introduced the Gujarat Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill 2006.
Dr. John Dayal, member of the National Integration Council and secretary general of the All India Christian Council (AICC), told Compass the various anti-conversion bills and laws encourage bigotry and hate campaigns.
They also lead to police brutalities and miscarriage of justice, especially in rural areas, he said, adding that data collected by the AICC, the Christian Legal Association and Dalit and tribal groups clearly showed how emboldened fundamentalist groups have become in the states where they are being backed by the local police and political elements through anti-conversion laws.
Prior Permission for Conversions
If implemented, Gujarat will become the fourth state with an anti-conversion law in force. The other three states are Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Orissa. The states of Arunachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Himachal Pradesh also have anti-conversion legislation, but they have not been implemented.
The 2003 bill seeks to ban conversion from one religion to another by force, allurement, or fraudulent means. It provides for up to three years of imprisonment and/or a fine of up to 50,000 rupees (US$1,240). If the convert is underage, a woman, Dalit or tribal, the imprisonment is up to four years and the fine 100,000 rupees (US$2,480).
The bill also makes it mandatory for clergy to seek prior permission from the administrative head of the district (district magistrate) for carrying out or even taking part in any religious conversion ceremony. Prospective converts are also required to inform the administration about their intent to convert.
Failure to inform authorities in both cases can lead to imprisonment of up to one year and/or a fine of 1,000 rupees (US$25).
The BJP government in Rajasthan state passed an anti-conversion bill in the assembly on April 7, 2006, but it is still awaiting governors assent. In Himachal Pradesh, the Congress Party government introduced a similar bill on December 30, 2006. On February 20, Gov. Vishnu Sadashiv Kokje gave his assent to bill, but the law is yet to be notified.
Two other states also sought to make their anti-conversion laws stricter in 2006. While Madhya Pradesh passed an amendment bill on July 25, Chhattisgarh passed a similar bill on August 3. These bills, however, have not been signed by the respective governors.
According to the 2001 census, of the 50.6 million people in Gujarat , only about 284,000 are Christian.