08/31/2012, 00.00
INDIA

Himachal Pradesh (partially) repeals its anti-conversion law

by Nirmala Carvalho
The state's high court strikes down Rule 4 (obligation to notify the authorities within 30 days one's intention to convert to a religion other than Hinduism) as well as rules 3 and 5 (requiring the state to investigate conversions). For Card Oswald Gracias, president of Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, the ruling "upheld and protected the constitution" and recognised that everyone has "a right to choose his or her religion."

Mumbai (AsiaNews) - In a landmark decision, the Himachal Pradesh High Court has struck down parts of the Freedom of Religion Act 2006, the state's anti-conversion law. Speaking to AsiaNews, Card Oswald Gracias, president of Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, said he was "very satisfied" because the ruling "upheld and protected the constitution" and recognised that everyone has "a right to choose his or her religion." More specifically, the High Court repealed Rules 3, 4 and 5 of the law leaving the rest in place.

Rule 4 made it punishable for a person intending to convert not to give prior notice to the district magistrate 30 days before the ceremony. Anyone who failed to give prior notice would be fined up to a thousand rupees (US$ 18). Such a rule did not apply to people who wanted to "return" to his or her religion (i.e. Hinduism), usually in mass ceremonies organised by Hindu fundamentalists.

Rules 3 and 5 (which are directly linked) required that the state investigate religious conversions, without defining when, how and who would investigate.

"Local officials and administrations use such laws to torment and persecute people who want to exercise their freedom of conscience," Card Gracias told AsiaNews, "and have often been used for violent acts against minorities."

"My hope," the prelate said, "is that the ruling by the Himachal Pradesh High Court will now set an example for other Indian states that have anti-conversion laws."

Other states that have anti-conversion laws are Arunachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat and Rajasthan.

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