Opposition stays away in protest, furore in Assembly during discussion
Bill was to check activities of Christian missionaries in certain parts of the State, says Minister
"An attack on the freedom of speech and expression, and freedom to profess, practice and propagate religion"
JAIPUR: The Rajasthan Assembly on Friday passed an Anti-conversion Bill, even as the entire Opposition stayed away. There were uproarious scenes throughout the two-and-a-half hour-long discussion on the legislation.
The "Rajasthan Dharma Swatantraya Bill, 2006" (Religious Freedom Bill) has a provision for re-conversion to Hinduism.
Chief Minister absent
Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje was not present when her party (ruling BJP) members battled with the Opposition over the Bill. It was taken up on the concluding day of the Budget session and passed with a voice-vote.
The Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) continued their boycott of the proceedings for the rest of the day, though the BJP made attempts to bring them back after the Bill was passed.
The Opposition members also kept away from a function organised to felicitate N.S. Gujjar for being chosen the Best Legislator for 2005-06. They also stayed away from a film show and dinner, arranged by Ms. Raje for them to mark the end of the session.
Home Minister Gulab Chand Kataria, who piloted the Bill, said the Bill was necessary to check the activities of Christian missionaries in some parts of the State, especially in Kota. He, however, pointed out that the Bill was not against any religion.
"All religions will be treated equally when it comes to conversions. If anyone wants to change his religion on his own he can still do it," he said. Similar Bills, introduced in States such as Madhya Pradesh and Orissa had the Supreme Court's approval, he noted.
The Congress members and Amra Ram (CPI-M) termed the Bill an attack on the freedom of speech and expression, freedom of conscience and freedom to profess, practice and propagate religion, enshrined in the Constitution. The Opposition attempts to get the Bill referred to a Select Committee were in vain.
`Will suppress minorities'
"The Bill is an attempt to suppress the minorities. It can be used against Sikhs, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Jains and others," Zuber Khan, Chief Whip of the Congress, said. He challenged the Government to give a single instance of forcible conversion in Rajasthan during its rule. "Congress members Sanyam Lodha and Mohammed Mahir Azad said there were ample chances of misuse of the legislation. Mr. Lodha pointed out that the Bill had kept the same kind of punishment for converting as well as attempt to convert.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party members, vying among themselves, tried to take maximum political advantage of the enactment of the Bill, trying to project the main Opposition party, the Congress, as "anti-Hindu."
Education Minister Ghanshyam Tiwari said at least on two occasions: "The Congress party is acting against the interests of Hindus under the leadership of B.D. Kalla."
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