11/17/2006, 00.00
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New anti-conversion bill proposed in Himachal Pradesh

by Nirmala Carvalho
The Indian Church is concerned by such a possible decision which would undermine the state's secularist traditions. The Bishops' conference reminds decision-makers about the Catholic Church's social action, which is not geared towards forced conversions but is intended to be at the services of one and all.

Shimla (AsiaNews) – Because faith is a matter of choice, not coercion, the government of the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh intends to examine carefully whether an anti-conversion bill proposed by Hindu nationalist factions should become law, this according to Virbhdadra Singh, the state's chief minister. Yesterday he said that his government would explore all possibilities and conduct a thorough study in all related aspects of such legislation.

For the Indian Church, it "is a matter of concern that this is another state in our secular India, that is mulling over a ban on forced conversion", said archbishop Stanislaus Fernandes, secretary general of the Bishops' Conference of India. "It is especially worrying," he told 

AsiaNews,  "that the social ministry of the Church is being scrutinised and that there is such a degree of mistrust in the Church's activities. For over a century, the Church has been actively involved in working among the poor and marginalised through her health, educational and welfare programmes. Never before has the good works which are done have ever been doubted."

In this last point Mgr Fernandes referred to the charges made by Hind nationalists who accuse the Church of using its social activities "as means for forced conversions obtained through fraud".

For the archbishop, the various governments fail to see that "conversion is the work of the Holy Spirit and the Church is merely at the service of all people irrespective of caste and creed. The Church has always been against forced conversions."

"As disciples of Jesus and followers of his teaching," the Church defends the view that it is "entirely up to the individual person to exercise his freedom of choice and conscience."

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