03/26/2008, 00.00
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"Black" day for India: new anti-conversion law in Rajasthan

by Nirmala Carvalho
Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil denounces to AsiaNews the uselessness of the decree. According to the text, those who convert by "use of force, allurement or fraudulent means" risk five years in prison.

Jaipur (AsiaNews) - After more than two years of parliamentary debate, the assembly of the western state of Rajasthan has approved a new anti-conversion law.  Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil, archbishop of Ernakulam-Angamaly and president of the Catholic bishops' conference, denounces to AsiaNews: "This so-called Freedom of Religion Bill is a slur on the culture of our nation.  India has long been respected in the international community as a country of tolerance, peace and respect for cultural and religious diversity, and this is a black mark on the nation".

The law had been approved by the state parliament for the first time in 2006, but the governor of the state, Pratibha Patil, had not signed it, sending it back to the chamber to be rewritten.  But last week, the controversial text was approved.  It prohibits conversions that take place by "use of force, allurement or fraudulent means", and condemns those who practise them to five years in prison and a 50 thousand rupee [approximately 800 euro] fine.

The cardinal comments: "These bills, which are absolutely unnecessary, are introduced by fundamentalist forces, the consequences of which are intolerance and mistrust, and loss of peaceful coexistence between peoples and communities, and eventually society and the nation suffer. I have always emphasised that these Freedom of Religion bills are against our constitutional freedom, our founding fathers enshrined in Article 25 of the constitution the right to the practise, profession, and propagation of faith".

Besides, the anti-conversion laws are used with increasing frequency to invalidate conversions from Hinduism to Christianity.  Groups of Hindu nationalists accuse the Christian missionaries of violating the law with the celebration of baptism, and very often attack the Christians ceremonies without waiting for a judicial inquiry.  But on the other hand, the law does not provide any restrictions for those who desire "to return to the true faith, Hinduism".

As Christians, concludes Cardinal Vithayathil, "This message of the resurrection cannot be restricted only to Christians, because it is a message which  brings hope for the world. How can we not share the Good News of Christ's  victory over sin and death? We are not converting anyone with this powerful message of hope, instead we are sharing with them news which is liberating".

With this ratification, six Indian states now include a law against conversions in their penal codes: Arunachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, and Rajasthan. According to some Indian legal texts, the first anti-conversion law was conceived by Gandhi himself, who considered missionaries "a remnant of colonialism".

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