Monday, March 24, 2008

Freedom of Religion Bill passed in Rajasthan

The government in India’s Rajasthan state sanctioned an anti-religious conversion bill Friday in a bid to scrutinize Christian activities, including allegations of conversions by force and allurement.
The bill, introduced in the House last week, received strong resistance from the opposition Congress and religious leaders in the country. It prohibits conversions by use of force, allurement or fraudulent means, and punishes offenders with up to five years imprisonment as well fines of up to 50,000 Indian rupees (US$1,200).
"Some religious and other institutions, bodies and individuals are found to the involved in unlawful conversion from one religion to another by allurement or by fraudulent means or forcibly which at times has caused annoyance in the community belonging to the other religion," states the bill.
"In order to curb such illegal activities and to maintain harmony amongst persons of various religions, it has been considered expedient to enact a special law for the purpose."
Christian leaders in the state, however, feel that the bill will be misused to torture and imprison Christian missionaries on fabricated charges. Cases related to this have been reported in the past.
"It appears that the BJP (Indian People's Party) government is working on the hidden Hindu agenda to appease RSS (National Volunteers' Organization) in the Vidhan Sabha elections slated later this year in the state," commented Congress Chief Whip Juber Khan.
With a similar bill awaiting the approval of Indian President Prathiba Patil, Khan questioned how the BJP government could re-introduce another bill.
The 2006 Rajasthan Dharma Swatantraya Bill was passed by the House earlier but was returned by then-Governor Pratibha Patil.
Patil had returned the bill to the state government asking to get it cleared from the then-President A.P.J Abdul Kalam.
Despite opposition from Congress members, BJP MLAs (Members of the Legislative Assembly) were unwilling to wait.
”Problems of fanaticism, terrorism and secessionism have always arisen in the areas where Hindus were reduced to minority by large-scale conversions,” claimed BJP MLA Nand Kishore Garg.
Rajasthan is the sixth Indian state to pass an anti-conversion bill into law after Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Gujarat, Arunachal Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh.