Hindu Fundamentalists Allege "Forced Conversion" in India

Friday, July 29, 2005

Orissa High Court orders strict enforcement of state anti-conversion law.

by Vishal Arora

NEW DELHI, India, July 28 (Compass) -- The High Court of Orissa state has asked local officials to examine complaints of “forced conversions” and ordered strict enforcement of the state anti-conversion law.

The court made the order in late June, in response to a Public Interest Litigation filed by Ananta Kumar Satrusalya and 268 others belonging to 19 villages in Orissa’s Gajapati district.

The petitioners claimed that Christian missionary organizations were forcibly converting tribal and low-income people in the district. Orissa passed a Freedom of Religion Act (OFRA) in 1967, prohibiting “conversion by the use of force or inducement or by fraudulent means.”

The High Court has now directed police in Gajapati district to register cases of alleged forced conversion under Sections 3, 4 and 5 of the OFRA and submit the charges “immediately.”

Section 3 of the Act describes what constitutes a “forced” conversion. Section 4 outlines the penalty for contravening Section 3: imprisonment for up to one year and a fine of up to 5,000 rupees ($115). When the offense is committed against a minor, a woman or a person belonging to a “Scheduled” caste (such as Dalits) or tribe, the offender may be imprisoned for up to two years and fined up to 10,000 rupees ($230).

Section 5 allows for an offense under the Act to be tried in court.

Hindu fundamentalist organizations have treated the High Court’s order as proof that forced conversions are occurring. But B.D. Das, a member of the Christian Legal Association of India, says this assumption is false.

“The High Court has merely issued notice ... that district administrators should inquire to see if the complaints of forced conversions are based on facts,” he explained.

On July 3, the Organiser, a weekly published by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), said the court had made a “historic judgment” in that “all the complaints regarding this issue will be considered First Information Reports, and the administration must file charge-sheets without any delay.”

The article also quoted the High Court as saying, “The police administration and the district administration should not remain silent on the sensitive issue of conversion.”

Gouri Prashad Rath, state secretary of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP or World Hindu Council), described the order as “most-needed,” according to the Organiser.

The court order also made headlines on an anti-Christian website (www.christianaggression.org) that claims to expose “Christian Fundamentalism inciting a cycle of violence and aggression.”

Hindu fundamentalists are active in Orissa. The state chapter of the VHP has a membership of 60,000, while the youth wing Bajrang Dal has 20,000 members in 200 locations.

Observers estimate that the RSS operates 2,500 daily morning gatherings, known as shakhas, and has a 100,000-strong supporter base.

Over 4 million Orissa residents are believed to be members of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, an ally of the state’s ruling Biju Janata Dal party.