India: Anti-Conversion Bill Expected in Eighth State

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Uttarakhand state chief minister promises to ban ‘forced’ conversions.

NEW DELHI, May 14 (Compass Direct News) -- The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is expected to enact an anti-conversion law in the northern state of Uttarakhand, as it promised during its election campaign in February.

Uttarakhand Chief Minister B.C. Khanduri on April 15 said that his government would introduce a law to ban “conversions with allurement or fraudulent means” in the upcoming session of the Assembly, reported the Organizer, a weekly published by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), in its May 6 issue.

Khanduri made the announcement at a meeting with local Hindu priests in Uttarakhand’s Haridwar city.

The BJP came into power in the states of Uttarakhand, formerly known as Uttaranchal, and Punjab in March 2007. Given that the BJP is part of a coalition with the regional Shiromani Akali Dal party in Punjab, that state is less likely to succeed in enacting an anti-conversion law.

A representative of the Christian Legal Association told Compass that the “sole motive” behind proposing anti-conversion bills is to make it easier for Hindu extremists to thwart Christian work, adding that it was “worrisome” that the number of states with an anti-conversion law was increasing.

The BJP on February 8 promised an anti-conversion law in its manifesto for the Assembly polls in the state, reported United News of India.

According to government figures, there are only 27,116 Christians out of 8.4 million people in Uttaranchal.

Demand in Punjab

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council or VHP) on April 14 demanded that an anti-conversion law be enacted in Punjab state.

VHP leader Ashok Singhal told reporters in Chandigarh, capital of Punjab, that those who come from abroad to “engineer conversions” in the country “should be sent back,” stating that conversions were “posing a threat to the existence of Hindus,” reported the Press Trust of India.

Singhal went on to say that there should be an anti-conversion law at the national level rather than only in the seven states that have passed such legislation.

“We will work with our might to stop conversions,” he said.

Referring to the Congress Party-ruled Himachal Pradesh state’s recent move to enact a law to ban forcible conversions, he added, “Other states, including Punjab, should also follow suit.”

The Himachal Pradesh Assembly passed its anti-conversion law on December 30, 2006, and the state governor signed it into a law on February 20, 2007. The rules are yet to be framed to bring the law into force.

Singhal maintained that it was a “crime to ask people to leave Hinduism and adopt other religions through forced conversions.”

The VHP chief of Punjab’s Amritsar district, Rakesh Madan, also suggested that Punjab needed an anti-conversion law, according to regional daily The Tribune on March 12.

According to the 2001 Census of India, Christians in Punjab number 292,800 in a state whose total population is over 24.3 million.

Seven India states have anti-conversion laws, known as Freedom of Religion Acts: Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Arunachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh.

Hindu extremists commonly use anti-conversion legislation to falsely accuse Christians of converting people through force or allurement; thus they justify attacks on Christians or deflect prosecution away from themselves by pressing charges of “forcible conversion” without any evidence.

While anti-conversion laws were enforced in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh (before they were divided into two separate states) in 1967 and in Orissa in 1968, the legislation in Rajasthan state, which passed in the state Assembly in April 2006, is still awaiting governor’s assent.

Arunachal Pradesh and Gujarat also have passed such laws in 1978 and 2003 respectively, with their governors’ approval, but they have not been implemented as rules have yet to be framed.

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