Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Anti Conversion law passed in Madhya Pradesh

M.P. Assembly passes Freedom of Religion Act

Bhopal, July 25 (PTI): The Madhya Pradesh Assembly today passed a controversial bill to amend the state's Freedom of Religion Act of 1968 to prevent religious conversion by force or allurement.

Amidst an uproar in the the House by opposition members, the bill was passed by voice vote without holding discussions, prompting the Congress to later submit a memorandum to Governor Balram Jakhar asking him to return it.

The bill provides for a person wishing to change his religion to voluntarily inform the district magistrate of his intentions, sources said adding the priest or organisations performing the conversion rituals were also required to inform the authorities about it a month in advance.

Police were given the task of verifying the credentials of the priest or the organisations ahead of the conversion and that this was not being done by force or with allurement.

The bill includes provisions for penal action like one year's imprisonment and a fine against priests or organisations that perform conversions without following due procedures and a fine of up to Rs 1000 for persons who fail to inform authorities about their intentions to adopt another religion, sources said.

While the government claimed existing laws are inadequate to check conversions by force or allurement, the Congress termed the move an "interference with religious freedom and human rights".

The BJP is "practising vote bank politics and wants to spread communal hatred", Leader of Opposition Jamuna Devi said in the memorandum, adding "it aims to exploit the Christian community and tribals through the bill".

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MP anti-conversion law puts priests under lens

BHOPAL: Taking a controversial step into the arena of conversions, the BJP-majority assembly in Madhya Pradesh on Tuesday enacted a legislation that makes switching faiths tougher. The legislation has prescribed punishment for priests who conduct conversions without informing authorities one month before any such act.

The tightening of an anti-conversion law comes after months of campaigning by Hindu activists trying to prevent mass conversions into Christianity ostensibly. The amendment, meant as a shield against forcible conversions, prescribes one-year jail term and a Rs 5,000 fine for violations.

Although critics say such laws stifle the spirit of religious freedom, the MP government argues that on the contrary it would protect the personal choice of faith by removing the chance of coercion and allurement.

The passage of the Madhya Pradesh Religious Freedom (Amendment) Act made it mandatory for the priests performing the conversion ceremony to inform the state government about the exact day and place where the conversion is to take place.

Anti-conversion laws exist in Orissa and Chhattisgarh, where people can be punished for not informing the state about their plans to convert. But MP now takes it further by enforcing punishment for the priests involved in conversions.

In the original Madhya Pradesh Religious Freedom Act of 1968, the priest was not a party to such a conversion. The law required the person who wanted to switch religion to inform the district magistrate of the decision. Now Section 5 of the Act has been amended to include priests.

The priest now has to fill in an application form giving details of not just the venue and date of the ceremony, but also add a list of names and addresses of those seeking conversion. This application has to be submitted at the district magistrate's office a month before conversion.

This is to be followed by an administrative inquiry conducted by district officials and police superintendent, who is expected to ascertain whether there was any allurement or coercion to convert.

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Anti-conversion law made harsh in Madhya Pradesh


The central Indian Madhya Pradesh state assembly on Tuesday amended a 38-year old law against conversion, making it more stringent.

The amended Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act of 1968 aims to prevent religious "conversions by force or allurement." Many Christian leaders say the law targets Christians.

The state legislature dominated by members of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) passed the amendments without discussion. Opposition Congress party's resistance were ignored.

The amendments say that an individual intending to convert should inform the district magistrate or other designated authorities about his intention one month in advance. A failure will attract a fine of Rs.1,000 or imprisonment.

Similarly, the minister failing to inform authorities in the prescribed manner, stating the name and address of the converted person and the date and venue of the conversion, will be punished with imprisonment up to one year or fine of Rs. 5,000 or both.

The law says the information from the priest and the individual will help the police will verify that the act of conversion is not being done by force or allurement.

Till now the act prohibited conversion from one religion to another through force, inducement or cheating, but there was no provision for advance information.

The ruling BJP government claimed the existing laws were insufficient to check conversions by force or allurement.

The state has witnessed several anti-Christians attacks in the past months, which Hindu activist claimed were linked conversion activities.

Congress party in a memorandum asked Governor Balram Jakhar to return the bill without signing. His signature is necessary for the amendments to become part of the law.

Congress leaders and Christian leaders termed the move an interference with the religious freedom and human rights of the people.

Indira Iyengar, president of the Madhya Pradesh Christian Association, said the amendment will only encourage communal forces. She urged the governor to return the bill.

Iyengar denied allegations that Christian missionaries in the state were converting tribals forcibly.

"The community is being implicated in false cases. It is facing increasing attacks," she said adding that this year alone there were more than 20 attacks on Christians in the state.

Hindu outfits fabricate charges of converting tribals to Christianity to attack and harass Christian communities and leaders, she said.

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Friday, July 21, 2006

New tougher Anti Conversion Bill to be introduced in Madhya Pradesh

We have just learned from sources in Bhopal that the Freedom of Religion Bill in Madhya Pradesh better known as the Madhya Pradesh Dharma Swatantrata Adhiniyam 1968 has been made stricter and has been tabled before the Legislative Assembly in Bhopal for approval.

The preexisting Madhya Pradesh Dharma Swatantrata Adhiniyam has been strengthened in this attempt and has been made to closely follow the example of the Orissa Freedom of religion bill which was also introduced in 1968.

According to our sources the major change or deviation that this new Freedom of Religion Bill will have from the old one is in the area of informing the government about the conversion.

The old Bill simply said this: "(1) Whoever converts any person from one religious faith to another either by performing himself the ceremony necessary for such conversion as a religious priest or by taking part directly or indirectly in such ceremony shall, within such period after the ceremony as may be prescribed, send and intimation to the District Magistrate of the district in which the ceremony has taken place of the fact of such conversion in such form as may be prescribed. [2] If any person fails with sufficient causes to comply with the provisions contained in sub-section (1), he shall be punishable with imprisonment which may extend to one year of with fine which may extend to one thousand rupees or with both."

According to the new Bill the parties which are involved in religious conversion either directly or indirectly will now have to inform the district collector about the intent to convert one month prior to the actual date of the conversion ceremony.

The collector will then order an enquiry into the request for conversion and may involve the local police for the same. Only after the collector is satisfied that the conversion is not forced or fraudulent will he give his permission for the same and then the ceremony might take place. The penalties for not fulfilling the above requirements have not been changed although there was pressure to change the monetary penalty to 1, 00,000 Indian Rupees and imprisonment to 3 years.

This new Bill is against the freedom of conscience as enshrined in the Constitution of India. It goes against the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well to which India is a signatory.

This proposed bill is not necessarily anti Christian in nature. We have to understand that this is anti Dalit and anti Tribal in its essence. This is being brought so that Dalits and Tribals may never have the dignity of life they so much deserve. This is depriving them of their Freedom to choose.

This report is based on reports from trusted sources but we still await the proposed document. We will continue to update you as updates arrive. Please pray against this proposed freedom of religion bill which will only curtail and trample upon the freedom of religion of individuals.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Church leaders deplore attack on Christian institutions

July 20, 2006

Changanassery (ICNS) - Church leaders and organizations have condemned the vandalism unleashed on Christian educational institutions by the student outfits belonging to the ruling Communist Party of India, Marxist government in the southern Indian state of Kerala.

On Wednesday, Students Federation of India, the Leftist student wing, smashed computers, vehicles, doors and windows of some Church-run educational institutions in Kerala following a court order that seemingly favored self-financing professional colleges run by minority communities.

Church leaders on Thursday deplored the violence. "It is disgraceful that Marxist student outfits are attacking minority institutions that are serving the society," said Changanassery Archbishop Joseph Powathil, who is also the chairman of the Education Commission of the Kerala Catholic Bishops Council.

"This seems to be an attempt to replace the rule of law with jungle law," Archbishop Powatil told Indian Catholic.

"Everybody should be ready for compromise. This vengeful reaction against the peaceful response to the anti-minority Act under the guise of the Professional College Act, with the silent nod of the government, is undemocratic," Archbishop Powathil said.

He said the ruling Marxist party in Kerala will have to pay the price for the decision to resort to violent methods following an unfavourable court verdict.

Verapoly Archbishop Daniel Acharuparambil also expressed concern over the growing intolerance against private educational institutions runs by Church groups in Kerala.

"Attacking our educational institutions is not an answer to settle problems associated with student admissions," he said.

The Kerala Catholic Youth Movement said the government should not allow anybody to take law into their hands. "The progressive student movements should give up vandalism and violence," KCYM president John Britto said.

Changanassery Archbishop Powathil, who is also the chairman of the Inter-Church Education Council said that the reason for the church approaching the court on the Self-Financing Colleges Act is the conviction that minority rights are at stake.

Even while reserving his comments on Tuesday's High Court Single Bench verdict on the self-financing colleges issue, maintaining that more time was needed to study the court order, Archbishop Powathil said that what the Church wanted by approaching the court was to point out a wrong committed by the government.

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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Youths in India Set Fire to Orphanage, Harass Girls

EMI institution suffers $8,602 in damages; court warns Rajasthan official.

NEW DELHI, July 17 (Compass Direct News) – Unidentified youths early on July 6 harassed girls and launched an arson attack at the orphanage of Emmanuel Mission International in Rajasthan state's Kota district.

The incident took place at 2 a.m. when at least six youths tried to enter the girls' dormitory at the orphanage, Saji Kutty of EMI told Compass.

Kutty said one of the young men climbed on to the drainage pipe, reached the window of a room and knocked with a stick. The girls woke up and shouted, after which he got down and, along with the others, started throwing stones at the window.

Later, the youths set a tire on fire and threw it inside the generator room. A generator panel and transformer caught fire and were destroyed, a loss estimated at 400,000 rupees (US$8,602), Kutty said.

When Kutty went to the Udyog Nagar police station to lodge a complaint, police refused to file a First Information Report (FIR).

"They just received our written complaint and did not even give us a signed copy of it," Kutty said.

The EMI has sent copies of the complaint to concerned district and state authorities, including the Rajasthan State Women's Commission and the State Minorities Commission.

Officials of the social welfare department, who were appointed at the orphanage following a June 13 high court order, claimed that the fire was due to a short-circuit. But Kutty said, "We have fire-safety equipment installed in the building, which shuts off the power as soon as there is a short-circuit."

Kutty said he was concerned that the social welfare department has not appointed any female staff at the orphanage. Dinesh Rajpurohit, allegedly an active member of Hindu extremist organization Matantaran Virodhi Manch (Anti-Conversion Front), is the leader of the official team overseeing the orphanage.

Kutty said that ever since government officials had been appointed at the orphanage, Hindu fundamentalists had been frequenting the compound and harassing EMI staff and inmates.

He also said the contract for food and other items had been given to those close to Hindu extremist organizations.

Another EMI worker, James Abraham, had earlier written to Kota district officials alleging that Rajpurohit visited the orphanage with several members of the Anti-Conversion Front on June 21.

"They [the extremists] went straight into the girls' hostel and into their rooms without knocking on their doors," Abraham had said. "They also passed obscene remarks."

When EMI staff objected, the extremists threatened to file false cases against them and claimed that the girls were "not safe" under EMI management.

The Global Council of Indian Christians has demanded an independent inquiry into incidents of harassment of EMI by administration and Hindu extremists.

Dilawar Warned

Rajasthan Patrika, a regional daily, on July 7 reported that the Rajasthan High Court had issued a warning to the Social Welfare Department and its director, Madan Dilawar, in a petition charging him with instigating people against minorities, including Christians.

The daily stated that Dilawar had been involved in targeting Christians even before he became a minister in December 2003. It reported that he intensified attacks after taking charge of the social welfare department.

Of the July 6 incident, Patrika reported that police were avoiding filing a formal complaint against social welfare official Rajpurohit, accused of bringing raucous disorder to the orphanage and attempting to sexually harass girls.

Hindu extremists have hounded EMI since January. They accused EMI staff members of hurting religious sentiments and breaking government regulations by distributing the book Haqeekat (Reality). EMI President Samuel Thomas and his father, Archbishop M.A. Thomas, were charged with creating "communal disharmony," and both face trial in August.

EMI operates Emmanuel Bible Institute Samiti, Emmanuel Anath Ashram (Orphanage), Emmanuel School Society, Emmanuel Chikitsalaya (Hospital) Samiti, and Emmanuel Believers Fellowship. The organization leads a native church movement and serves over 10,000 children through humanitarian and educational work.

Samuel Thomas was arrested on March 16 on charges of creating "communal disharmony." He was released on interim bail on May 2 but will appear in court on August 1.

His father was also charged but went "underground" and applied for anticipatory bail, before appearing at Udyog Nagar police station in Kota on May 15 to answer to the charges.

Pastor Arrested and Beaten up by Police in UP

Om Prakash Pandey a lay pastor was arrested by the local police in Sultanpur district of Uttar Pradesh on the 16th July 2006, while he was conducting Sunday worship. According to sources this was at the behest of the local VHP coordinator Amarjeet.

Om Prakash was taken to the Kurebhar Police Station where the Police Inspector Saroj and others allegedly beat him up mercilessly. They were cautious so that all the wounds that they inflicted on Om Prakash were not of a visible nature. Om Prakash was let off on the 17th July 2006 and no charges were framed on him. This solely demonstrates the utter disregard of the law by the police.

Will keep you updated further.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Persecution of minorities is breakdown of law & order

New Delhi, July 9: Deliberate persecution of either a community or a group of people belonging to a religious or linguistic minority is not a law and order situation but the breakdown of law and should be treated as such, Union minister for minority affairs A.R. Antulay said. He was speaking to Deccan Chronicle on the report submitted by the National Commission for Minorities on allegation of atrocities against members of the Christian community in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh.

In their report, NCM has asked the Centre to take action to prevent some fundamentalist organisations from targeting members of the Christian community.
Mr Antulay said he would take up this matter with the home ministry and ask them to seriously pursue it. He said he had already spoken to the chief ministers of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and even Rajasthan and written letters to them about alleged harassment of Christian in their states and asked what the government was doing to curb this.

Speaking about the dismal situation of the Wakf boards in the country, Mr Antulay said, "I will apply my mind on how best state Wakf boards can be brought under the Central Wakf Council so that beneficiaries of the Wakf properties are benefited and not those who are sitting on Wakf properties illegally."

Replying to a question, Mr Antulay denied that it was a controversial issue and instead said the controversy would be only for those whose benefits will cease.
He further said that he wants to bring even Hindus who are in minorities in some states like Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab under the ambit of notified minorities but he said nothing will be done in haste. He claimed, "I want to create a consensus on the matter."

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Christians Mocked Following Attack in Maharashtra, India

Policeman tells victims seeking justice, 'Ask Jesus to call me on my mobile phone.'

NEW DELHI, July 6 (Compass Direct) - When four tribal Christians in Toranpada village, Maharashtra state, asked for help following an attack by Hindu extremists last month, police responded by taunting and kicking the victims, then filing charges against them.

Members of the local Tribal Welfare Committee had beaten Baburao Mahala, 32, Anil Chaudhry, 23, and a couple identified only as 20-year-old Kalpana and her husband Sunil, 24, on June 8 for converting to Christianity.

The four converts filed a complaint at the local police station immediately after the attack. When they returned on June 15 to ask what action had been taken, one police officer told them, "Ask Jesus to call me on my mobile phone."

Three police officers then asked for a demonstration of prayer. When the four Christians knelt down, the officers kicked them and taunted them. The officers then filed charges against them for breaching the peace.

Abraham Mathai, a member of the Maharashtra State Minorities Commission and leader of the All India Christian Council, accompanied the four to the office of the director general of police on June 20 to protest against the officers' behavior.

"They harassed the Christians instead of giving them assurance that the perpetrators would be brought to book," Mathai said.

The director general of police ordered an inquiry, but police at the station have denied any wrongdoing.

Elsewhere in Maharashtra state, a government school in Sagar village, Nashik district has denied admission to children from Christian families, according to Mathai.

"The state government says that primary education is free for all, but how can the children of Christians benefit from this scheme if they are denied admission?" asked Mathai.

The government in Maharashtra is ruled by a coalition of the Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress Party. Of over 96.8 million people in the state, a little more than 1 million are Christian.

Nuns Charged
Police in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh detained four nuns from the Missionaries of Charity (MC) on June 25. The nuns were charged with attempted conversion following a visit to a government-run hospital in Tirupati, a popular Hindu pilgrimage center.

A crowd of about 50 people from the Hindu Dharma Parirakshana Samithi (HDPS or Forum for the Protection of Hinduism) approached the nuns on the evening of June 25 and accused them of attempting to convert patients, according to a UCA News (UCAN) report. Some in the crowd carried video cameras.

Numbers soon swelled to about 300. When police arrived, they detained the nuns at the hospital until 8:30 p.m., when they were taken to the police station and held for a further two hours.

Sister Rosaria, regional superior of the Catholic missionaries, told UCAN the nuns had been visiting the hospital regularly for the past 20 years and often provided medicine to poor patients.

The Catholic Association of Hyderabad expressed shock at the incident and demanded immediate action against HDPS members and the police.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Church set ablaze in Madhya Pradesh

Church set ablaze in Madhya Pradesh

By Indo Asian News Service

Bhopal, July 4 (IANS) A church has been set ablaze in remote Harda district in Madhya Pradesh, say reports.

'On June 30, extremists carrying torches broke into the church and set fire to a table, where 150 Bibles and hymnbooks were kept,' a report quoted Jaidi Khan, the pastor of the church, as saying.

The miscreants were from a Hindu group, Dharam Sena (Religious Army), said the report.

However, superintendent of police K.D. Peshara told IANS that the Pentecostal Church had two rival groups and the attack was launched by one group on the other.

He also alleged that the culprits had burnt down the motorbike of the guard, and not the church building.

The Christian community in the state is facing increasing number of attacks by Hindu outfits, which allege missionaries are converting tribals forcibly and using allurement.

As many as six attacks were reported in June alone.

In Bhopal, Bajrang Dal leader Devendra Rawat had earlier disrupted the press conference of Indira Iyengar, member of the state minorities commission. The conference was to highlight the alleged gangrape rape of two Christian women in Khargone district on May 28. They were raped after their husbands refused to 'reconvert' to Hinduism.

'We are worried about the increasing number of attacks,' said Fr Anand Muttungal, spokesperson for the Catholic Bishops Conference of Madhya Pradesh.

'I fail to understand why law enforcement agencies are not acting against the perpetrators,' he added.

Governor Balram Jakhar is reported to have written six letters to the state government seeking investigation into the reports of violence. The state home department, however, has either given a clean chit to the attackers or denied that the incidents ever took place.

Madhya Pradesh is among the few states where anti-conversion law is in force.

Copyright Indo-Asian News Service

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Christian body condemns attacks on minorities

Indo-Asian News Service

Raipur, June 29 (IANS) Attacks on the minorities, particularly on Christians are increasing alarmingly, a religious body said Thursday.

The Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) said "minorities mainly the Christians are facing a series of attacks and assaults by hardliner Hindu groups in Chhattisgarh".

In an incident Sunday in Bothli village in Durg district, 45 km west of capital Raipur, dozens of activists of a Hindu group, Dharam Sena, disrupted a weekly prayer meeting of Christians and mercilessly beat up several minority community members," said Vijayesh Lal, co-ordinator of the Delhi-headquartered organisation in a statement.

"Even an eight-month pregnant Christian lady was punched and kicked at the stomach repeatedly by the fundamentalists and she had to be shifted to a hospital," the statement said.

The EFI alleged police are hardly paying attention to reports and complaints lodged by Christians regarding these assaults.

Earlier this month, the National Commission for Minorities (NCM), which sent two of its members to the state in the wake of reported incidents of large-scale violence against minorities, made similar observations.

Indo-Asian News Service