Christians in Madhya Pradesh have expressed fear over a proposed amendment to the anti-conversion law, making a priest party to a conversion.
The pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP- Indian people’s party) has proposed the amendment to section 5 of the Madhya Pradesh Religious Freedom Act of 1968 that seeks to include priests, increasing fears among Christians that the move will open the door to false accusations of conversion by Hindu extremists.
It also makes prior permission a must. Permissions must be obtained at least a month in advance from the district magistrate. Persons who desire to convert as well as the priest who is preside over the religious ceremony will have to apply for this permission. There is also a provision for a police inquiry on the request.
The priest 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.
The cabinet has approved this amendment and will introduce it in the monsoon session starting Monday. Once the bill is passed in the assembly it will become a law immediately as it does not now require the approval of the President.
The hurried decision is a part of the grand plan prior to 2014 general elections to create a climate of suspicion and hatred towards Christian community, the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) said in a statement, demanding that the amendment be rejected.
India's Freedom of Religion Acts, referred to as anti-conversion laws, now have been implemented in six of India's 28 states and seven union territories. The laws appear to seek to curb religious conversions made by "force," "fraud" or "allurement."
“The laws obstruct conversion generally as Hindu nationalists invoke them to harass Christian workers with spurious arrests and incarcerations,” said Sajan K George, GCIC national president in the statement.
In the original Madhya Pradesh Religious Freedom Act of 1968, the priest is 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.
Anti-conversion laws exist in Orissa and Chhattisgarh, where people can be punished for not informing the state about their plans to convert.
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