Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Welcome as religous conversion law is withdrawn in India

But a human rights group, while welcoming its removal, called for the original law to be repealed.

The amendment redefined the word 'convert' and said that converting from one denomination to another was acceptable. However, it defined Jainism and Buddhism as denominations of Hinduism, a stance which attracted strong criticism from Jain groups.

Despite the amendment being withdrawn the original 'Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act, 2003', remains on the statute books. The Act is a somewhat convoluted law which rules that anyone converting another person must get prior permission from the district magistrate. In addition, the law is extremely difficult to challenge, owing to a complex web of additional rules and legislation.

Sam Paul, Secretary of Public Affairs at the All India Christian Council, said: "The status of this law is extremely confusing to ordinary citizens and police alike. Many people believe that they cannot change religion in Gujarat, even though the law has not been officially implemented. The Gujarat government must respect the religious freedom of its people and withdraw the original anti-conversion law, which was introduced to appease extremist Hindu nationalists in the state."

In Britain the advocacy director of Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), Tina Lambert, said: "Although we welcome this news, it is not enough that the amendment is withdrawn. As long as the original anti-conversion law exists on the statute books, it contributes towards creating a culture in which religious conversions are anathema, and a climate of fear exists among religious minorities.

"We call for a full repeal of the Gujarat anti-conversion law, to ensure the full expression of religious freedom as defined by international standards and protected in the India constitution."

Last month a Christian in Madhya Pradesh, India, was charged with forced conversion, according to a report by www.persecution.in. Vijay Burman was charged after a complaint against him claimed he was trying to lure converts with promises of good jobs.

Locals who know him insist that Mr Burman, who converted to Christianity from Hinduism 14 years ago, was doing no such thing.

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