Sunday, August 06, 2006

Chhattisgarh puts curbs on conversions

Source: AFP

Raipur: A sixth Indian state has passed a controversial anti-conversation law, banning religious conversions by force or allurement.

Passed by the legislature of central Chhattisgarh state late on Thursday, the law provides a three-year jail term and a Rs20,000 fine for those found guilty of forced religious conversions.

The bill has to be formally signed by the state governor. Hindu nationalist groups, led by the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which rules Chhattisgarh, have long accused Christian missionaries of forcibly converting Hindus.

The missionaries, who run schools, health centres and other charity programmes in the country's remote rural areas, deny the allegations. They say those who do convert do so willingly to escape the rigid Hindu caste system.

Four of India's 29 states, ruled by the BJP or its allies, have enacted such laws while in western Rajasthan state, the legislation has been passed by the assembly but has been held up by the state governor.

In Madhya Pradesh state, an existing anti-conversion law was amended last month to make it tougher. It is now mandatory for individuals seeking to change their religion to inform top officials one month in advance or face imprisonment and a fine.

Priests conducting conversion ceremonies in Madhya Pradesh have also been asked to pre-notify the authorities.

Moving the legislation in the Chhattisgarh assembly, Home Minister Ramvichar Netam said it would have a "stronger impact on containing forceful conversions mainly in remote and backward areas where external elements are trying to destroy the country".

In May, Pope Benedict condemned efforts to introduce anti-conversion legislation in several states in India, saying they were a "disturbing sign of religious intolerance". Christians form less than three percent of India's 1.1bn people, 80pc of whom are Hindus.

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