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From: Shahryar <
From: Shahryar <
Anti-conversion laws to be repealed by new govt
by Dibin Samuel
Posted: Tuesday, June 23, 2009, 17:46 (IST)
Finally, there might be some good news for Christians in states where anti-conversion laws are in force. The newly elected government has agreed to repeal bills that have restricted the freedom of religion in India.
According to sources, Home Minister P Chidambaram will be reviewing and making recommendations on the controversial anti-conversion bill also known as "Freedom of Religion Acts".
Presently, anti-conversion laws are in force in five states - Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat. In two other states - Arunachal Pradesh and Rajasthan, the laws have been passed but its implementation is awaited.
However, it is unlikely that Rajasthan will enact the bill after Congress wrested power from the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The Centre is set to invalidate the bill after the immediate consent of Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot.
In Madhya Pradesh, where the ruling BJP had proposed amendments to make the existing law stricter, the Centre has decided to withhold assent.
Former chief minister of Madhya Pradesh and senior politician of the Congress, Digvijay Singh, strongly opposed the bill and echoed with the Centre that the bill subjugates religious freedom enshrined in the constitution.
He also pointed that when he was CM for 10 years "there was no case of forcible conversion."
Recently, there was speculation over BJP-led Karnataka government adopting a similar law aimed to restrict conversions.
Minister of State for Law, Suresh Kumar, said there was a strong demand to introduce the anti-conversion law in Karnataka.
This, he said, would be introduced by examining the Tamil Nadu State where the law was introduced but withdrawn shortly.
In Himachal Pradesh, the stringent anti-conversion bill declares that anyone found guilty of forcing an individual to change religion can be punished with a two-year jail term, a fine of up to 25,000 rupees (US$560) or both.
The law also states that a person intending to change her or his religion should inform the government 30 days in advance. Failure to do so is also punishable. The same restrictions are mentioned in the Gujarat bill as well.
Christians argue that such a bill violates the fundamental right of freedom of conscience and freedom to profess, practice and propagate religion under the Article 25 of the constitution.
The bill, which was supposed to curb religious conversions made by "force", "fraud" or "allurement", Christians say, has been 'misused' to arrest and imprison church leaders on fabricated charges.
There have been incidents of deliberate arrests and well-planned attacks on allegations of "forced conversions".
While Hindu nationalists are pushing for a national anti-conversion law, Church leaders have appealed that the anti-conversion legislation in all states be overruled and a minority-friendly atmosphere be created.