Wednesday, March 26, 2008

New religion Bill may face the same fate

JAIPUR: The observations made by Rajasthan Governor Shailendra Kumar Singh in his address to a gathering of Christians on the occasion of Easter celebrations here on Sunday have led to speculation that the newest of the anti-conversion Bills in the country, passed by the State Assembly three days ago, would go the same way as the previous one—passed in 2006 and returned to the State Government by the then Governor Pratibha Patil.

Unity and harmony

“We have to respect all religions equally and strive for the uplift of society. Unity in society and harmony could be brought only through our good behaviour and not by Bills and legislation,” said Mr. Singh, a former career diplomat, addressing the gathering of believers at the more than a century old All Saints Church.

“Faith brings mutual confidence. All the religions should be respected equally. This only can create an atmosphere of love and brotherhood,” Mr. Singh said. The Upanishads and the shastras have defined faith, love and belief with good clarity, he said.

Quoting from the Bhagwad Gita, the septuagenarian Mr. Singh said Lord Krishna, while trying to help Arjun come out of his dilemma on the battlefront, had said that in society all are equal and real “dharma” is to carry out one’s responsibilities.

In what perhaps came as a reassurance to the beleaguered Christian community—which is apprehensive of the harsh Rajasthan Religious Freedom Bill, 2008--was the Governor’s participation in two Easter programmes.

Prior to the All Saints Church function, Mr. Singh sat through a two-hour-long midnight Easter vigil service on Saturday night at the St. Xavier’s Catholic Church.

High hopes

Raj Bhawan sources said he had gone to St. Xavier’s as a “commoner”. The midnight church service, which mentioned the presence of the Governor amid the gathering, thanked him for his gesture. As is the practice every year, the congregation prayed for the Rajasthan Chief Minister and the members of the Cabinet as well for “enabling them to do their duties well”.

“The Governor’s act came as a reassurance. It was so kind on his part to participate in two celebrations of Resurrection,” said Collin C. Theodore, Bishop of the Church of North India (CNI), speaking on phone from Ajmer. The All Saints Church comes under CNI.

“We hope the Governor means what he said. We have high hopes on him,” the Bishop noted.

The Rajasthan Freedom of Religion Bill, passed by the State Assembly after it was pushed by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party last Friday amid protests from Congress and CPI (M) members, has stringent provisions to punish anyone who “converts or attempt to convert” from one religion to another by “use of force or allurement or fraudulent means” with imprisonment ranging from one year to five years. The same is not applicable for those converting back to his/her “original religion”.

Raj Bhawan tight-lipped

Raj Bhawan sources on Monday remained tight-lipped about the “overtones” of the Governor’s speech.

The Bill, after its passage, is yet to reach the Governor, they informed.

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