08/05/2006, 00.00
INDIA
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Sonia Gandhi and Congress party condemn anti-conversion laws

by Nirmala Carvalho
The president of India's ruling party reiterates its strong opposition to 'laws on freedom of religion' passed in states run by Hindu fundamentalists. Minority leaders call on the central government to issue a white paper on the status of Christians.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – Sonia Gandhi, president of the ruling Congress Party, has condemned the so-called 'laws on freedom of religion', better known as anti-conversion laws adopted in many states administered by the Hindu nationalist Baharatiya Janata Party or BJP. Acting as her party's spokesperson, Ms Gandhi in a letter answered a memorandum presented by John Dayal, a member of the National Integration Council.

"The Congress Party's views on this are well known. These are enactments passed by the State legislatures where the Congress is in opposition," Ms Gandhi said, adding that the "Congress Party has opposed this strongly in the assembly and through demonstrations."

The 'laws on freedom of religion' have disproportionately affected Christians whom Hindu fundamentalists accuse of engaging in forced conversions amongst the poorest sectors of the population. They also threaten the liberty of Hindus themselves by imposing rigid rules and sentences for anyone who wishes to change religion.

When Ms Gandhi's letter arrived, various Christian representatives had gathered for a meeting of the National Commission for Minorities (NCM). Yesterday they discussed the threat posed by the anti-conversion laws and called on the central government to issue a white paper on the social, economic and political situation of Christian minorities in India. They also demanded that each State make an official statement backing claims of forced conversions, which are inventions by fundamentalists to justify their own persecutory behaviour.

The various leaders reiterated their allegiance to the Indian constitution and said that the Commission should monitor the federal and state governments in order "to ensure that at no time [. . .] religious minorities feel they live in an unjust system, or that the government and its apparatus are deaf to their pain."

NCM chairman, Hamid Ansari, explained that for the Commission the right to profess, practice and promote one's religion, which is guaranteed under article 25 of the Constitution, is an essential part of India's multi-religious society.

In view of this, the NCM has formulated a 15-point 'charter of requests' for the government to consider in order to deal with minorities' most urgent problems and needs. They include the repeal of discriminatory laws such as the Freedom of Religion Acts in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhatisgarh and Arunachal Pradesh; full civil and constitutional rights for Dalit Christians; reassure minorities on the rule of law by curbing communalism, prosecuting hate crimes and those guilty of violence such as the Sangh Parivar; issue a white paper on the condition of Christians in India and plan for the economic and cultural development of minorities in rural areas.

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