Friday, August 04, 2006

Chhattisgarh passes anti-conversion bill

By Indo Asian News Service

Raipur, Aug 3 (IANS) The Chhattisgarh assembly Thursday passed an anti-conversion bill providing for a three-year jail term and a fine of Rs.20,000 for those indulging in religious conversion by force or allurement.

The legislation, which is an amendment to Freedom of Religion Act, 1968 that was retained by Chhattisgarh when it was carved out of Madhya Pradesh in November, 2000, was passed after a heated debate and exchange of allegations between the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and opposition Congress legislators.

The new law, Chhattisgarh Religion Freedom (Amendment) Act, 2006 requires that those wishing to convert their religion have to seek permission of local district magistrate 30 days in advance. The district magistrate will accept or reject the request after studying the case.

The legislation is widely seen as a move by the BJP government to check the alleged growing influence of Christian missionaries in vast tribal areas in north and south of the state. The BJP governments in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan too have enacted similar laws.

While Congress legislators alleged the BJP government had a hidden agenda and the legislation was aimed to whip up communal feelings, Home Minister Ramvichar Netam said the new law would have stronger impact on containing forceful conversions, mainly in remote and backward areas where 'external elements are trying to destroy the country through conversions'.

The new law says that cases of those who converted their religion under force but reverted to their original religion would not be categorised as 'forceful conversion' and they would be exempted from punishment.

Copyright Indo-Asian News Service

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