Tuesday, April 5, 2005
By BosNewsLife News Center
NEW DELHI, INDIA (BosNewsLife)– The chief minister of India's western state of Maharashtra, Vilasrao Deshmukh, has rejected a proposed 'anti-conversion bill' amid warnings the legislation would increase the persecution of Christians, BosNewsLife monitored Monday, April 4. Under the controversial law, which was proposed by the state's Interior Minister Siddharam Mhetre, priests could be imprisoned or fined if found "contravening the provisions" of the legislation even in cases when someone voluntarily decides to change his or her religion.
The bill would make it "mandatory" for a prospective convert to take prior permission from a local administration before converting. It also requires a priest to ask permission from authorities before performing any ceremony for conversion, BosNewsLife learned.
Interior Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh reportedly wanted a law, along the lines of similar legislation in southern state of Tamil Nadu, to avoid "forceful conversions."
However Indian Evangelical Christians and several church leaders have maintained that Christianity is always "a personal" choice from people to follow Christ.
"The minister…should know that the Tamil Nadu Anti-Conversion law was withdrawn after a prolonged agitation by the people of the state in May 2004, said Dolphy D?Souza, president of the Bombay Catholic Sabha (Assembly) (BCS), in an interview with BosNewsLife.
However "the anti-conversion law is in force in the states of Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Gujarat," he explained. Yet "such a suggestion to come from a secular government official is a shame," D?Souza said. "It appears the minister…acted on his own as is evident from the intervention of the chief minister," he added.
Chief Minister Deskmuh reportedly said there was no need for anti-conversion legislation as "the existing laws had enough provisions."
The government of Maharashtra is ruled by the Nationalist Congress Party which is seen as supporting political efforts to protects religious minorities, such as Christians and Muslims. Christians comprise merely 1.12 percent of the total population of 96.75 million, according to estimates.
However the Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party alleges "that Christian missionaries are forcibly converting poor tribals which perhaps could be the reason why the issue of conversions was raised in the assembly," last week D?Souza explained.
The Maharashtra state has witnessed at least two incidents of Christian persecution in the recent past, news reports say. A cross erected on the gate of a Christian old-aged home in the suburbs of the capital city of Mumbai was recently damaged and nuns have been threatened by some miscreants in January, reported the Press Trust of India.
In addition a Hindu cleric, Sunil Ji Maharaj, urged in January Hindu villagers in Maharasthra's Amravati district to kill Christian tribals of a Catholic village, Rajura, with swords and ostracise "if they did not reconvert to Hinduism," reported the Christian news agency Compass Direct, which investigates persecution of Christians. Maharaj also insisted that tribal Christians turn their church into a Hindu temple.
There have been violent incidents against Christians throughout India in recent months and church leaders have linked the attacks to increasingly Hindu militants and their supporters. (Based in New Delhi, Journalist Vishal Arora, 32, has covered persecution and other hard hitting news stories for a variety of international and national publications. He has traveled around the country on invitation by NGOs for seminars and talks on human rights, communalism, and religious persecution. Vishal Arora can be contacted at e-mail address email@example.com or visit his website http://www40.brinkster.com/vishalarora/ )
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