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Church To Demand Withdrawal Of Amendment To Anti-Conversion Law

7/17/08 BHOPAL, India (UCAN) — Church people in Madhya Pradesh plan to renew their demand for the withdrawal of an amendment the central Indian state made to its anti-conversion law two years ago.

They also want the state’s pro-Hindu government to apologize for allegedly supporting attacks on Christians under the pria_bhopal_madhya_pradesh_state.gifetext of halting widespread religious conversion.

Father Anand Muttungal, spokesperson for the Catholic Church in the state, says the Church plans to make the demand now that a government survey on religious conversions apparently found no case of conversion to Christianity in the state.

The government has not yet announced the survey results, but Father Muttungal told UCA News on July 15 that he obtained a copy of the results from the state Home Department, since he is an accredited journalist in the state.

“Now the government’s own survey report has vindicated our stand that Christians are not indulging in conversion,” asserted the priest, who is based in Bhopal, the state capital, 745 kilometers south of New Delhi.

The department studied religious conversions from January 2001 to August 2006 in 24 of the state’s 49 districts, where the government suspected Christian missioners had converted tribal and other poor people.

The survey found only one case of conversion, however, that of a Christian woman joining Hinduism, Father Muttungal noted. According to him, the survey “boomeranged” on the state government, which hoped to support its claim that Christians have engaged in large-scale conversions. “It turned out to be otherwise,” the priest said.

The government needed data to prove that its attempt to amend the 1968 Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act was based on fact. It got the amendment passed in the state legislative assembly on July 25, 2006, but did not get the necessary endorsement of the governor, who represents the Indian president in a state. The governor referred the amendment to the president, who has not yet responded.

“Now that the truth has come out, the government should withdraw the amendment,” Father Muttungal insisted.

Plans to demand the withdrawal were discussed at the June 29 meeting of Madhya Pradesh Isai Mahasangh (grand assembly of Madhya Pradesh Christians).

Raju Francis, vice president of the assembly, told UCA News anti-Christian violence that occurred in the state the past five years was the outcome of a conspiracy.

Christians reported more than 100 violent attacks on their community after the Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian people’s party) came to power in Madhya Pradesh in December 2003. The party is considered the political arm of radical groups that want to create a Hindu theocratic India.

Francis, a lawyer, said the conversion charges against Christians were deliberate attempts to defame them and make others distrust them. If the government cannot prove these allegations, he it should not only apologize to the Christian community but also take action against those responsible for the violence, he insisted.

Francis Joseph, the Christian assembly’s secretary and treasurer, told UCA News Hindu radicals try to malign Christians with the goal of eventually taking over Church properties. He alleged these groups have opened schools following the example of Christians and now resort to false propaganda to try and oust Christians from their own institutions.

The amendment to the anti-conversion law mandates that anyone intending to convert has to inform the magistrate, the top government authority in a district. The officiating priest must also inform the magistrate a month in advance and provide full details.

A convert who fails to inform the magistrate would incur a fine of up to 1,000 rupees (US$23.50), while a priest who fails to comply would face a year in jail and a maximum fine of 5,000 rupees.