Sunday, April 09, 2006

To check conversions, Rajasthan arms itself with tough new law

Express news service
Posted online: Saturday, April 08, 2006 at 0000 hrs IST

The Rajasthan Assembly today passed an anti-conversion Bill that not only gives the state sweeping powers to put behind bars, even before trial, any person accused of forcing or alluring a person to change his religion, but also applies it specifically to conversions from the "original religion".

This has given rise to speculation that the legislation is meant only to stop conversion from Hinduism.

It was passed on the last day of the Budget session, amid strong protests by the Opposition. Many of them point out that the Rajasthan Dharma Swatantrya Act (2006) will boost the Hindutva brigade, which has long accused Christian preachers of running a conversion campaign in the tribal belt of Rajasthan. Now the Hindutva campaigners might go on a reconversion drive, without attracting action under provisions of the new Act.

Home Minister Gulab Chand Kataria, considered a hardliner, admitted that the Act was necessitated by the rising cases of forcible conversions in the state, though he denied it was directed against minorities.

"This is not against any religion. As the name itself suggests, the Act allows people the freedom to practise their religion by protecting them from conversion by force or allurement," he said.

Under the Act, conversion by force or through allurement is a non-bailable offence that could lead to imprisonment for at least two years. A DSP-rank officer can arrest any person who has "converted or attempted to convert a person through force, allurement or fraudulent means".

The Opposition blasted the Act as "a draconian attempt to curb the fundamental right to religion" because of the powers it gives the police and government. Congress MLA Hari Mohan Sharma pointed out that the Act was even more stringent than a similar law framed by the Gujarat government.

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