03/02/2006, 00.00
INDIA
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Rajasthan to adopt anti-conversion law

by Nirmala Carvalho
State government is led by nationalist BJP. Catholics oppose the bill but local authorities turn a deaf ear to their appeals. With this law, the government is giving its tacit approval to anti-Christian violence, says bishop of Jaipur.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – The government of Rajasthan says it "does not want to create divisions in the state" among religious communities, but some of its prominent members want the state to adopt an anti-conversion law which would further aggravate the current wave of anti-Christian violence that is sweeping the state. Nationalist-oriented Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is in power, wants to pass the bill "as soon as possible", but local Catholic Church leaders view the law as "a tacit approval by the government of violence, an incitement to anti-Christian sentiment" and are gearing up to oppose it.

 "We are one family in Rajasthan," Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje told the state Legislative Assembly, and those responsible for the latest violence against Christians will be "severely punished".

Congress Party lawmakers charged however the chief minister with refusing to meet a delegation of Christians, which had approached her to seek protection from attacks against their community.

In an interview with AsiaNews, Mgr Oswald Lewis, bishop of Jaipur, Rajasthan's capital, said the Church will oppose the so-called 'Freedom of Religion Bill".

He said that some Catholic representatives met the Home Minister Gulab Chand Kataria, and assured him that there was "no need for such a law". But Kataria kept saying that such a law was necessary.

In late February the minister insisted that the "draft bill was being given final touches" ready to be tabled "in the Assembly's budget session and [. . .] passed into legislation as soon as possible."

Statistical data suggest that conversions to Christianity are infinitesimal and not a threat, but did show according to Bishop Lewis that "conversions when they do take place are neither forced nor fraudulent" as Hindu fundamentalist claim.

It is clear however that since October 2005 it is anti-Christian violence that has been rising at an "alarming rate".

The pretext for recent attacks has been the publication of the Hindi edition of book, originally written in English and released by a Protestant group, allegedly offensive to Hinduism.

Last Sunday for instance, despite police presence Vishwa Hindu Parishad activists prevented Christians from holding prayers in a church and vandalised two mission schools in Jaipur.

According to the prelate, if the law is adopted, the state government is giving "its tacit approval to the violence and encouraging anti-Christian sentiments that will cause major loss of life and property".

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