Ahmedabad, Apr 3 (IANS) — “It is a positive sign. This shows we can trust our system, that something good can come out of it,” said Father Francis Parmar, principal of St. Xavier’s College here.
Minority leaders have expressed fears that the provisions in the Anti-Conversion Bill could be misused to harass smaller religious communities, accusing them of proselytizing through coercive means even when converts choose to willfully adopt another faith.
“A delegation of religious minorities had met Governor Bhandari under the leadership of Archbishop Stanislaus Fernandes some time ago and urged him not to give his assent to the bill as it is against the provisions of the Indian Constitution,” said All-India Christian Council executive member Samson Christian.
He had also challenged the bill in the Gujarat High Court. But the court turned down the petition, terming it premature as the governor had not yet signed the bill.
The assembly had passed the bill aimed at stopping forcible conversion or conversion under allurement after the speaker had expelled almost the entire opposition. The assembly, dominated by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), passed the anti-conversion bill along with six other bills in a matter of minutes.
Bhandari, according to sources in Raj Bhavan or the governor’s house, has signed the other six bills. He may seek the opinion of the advocate general on the Anti-Conversion Bill, the sources indicated.
Religious minorities in Gujarat have strongly opposed the bill, saying it violated constitutional provisions and could be misused to prosecute missionaries working in the predominantly tribal areas of the state.
“The bill, if enacted, would create major trouble for Christian missionaries carrying out social work in the tribal belt. Besides, even genuine cases of tribals converting to Christianity on their own will be involved in legal tangle,” Samson Christian said.
“It is a violation of Article 25 of the Constitution that guarantees us the freedom to practise and propagate religion,” added Cedric Prakash, director of Prashant, an Ahmedabad-based human rights group.
Muslims feel much the same way.
“It is an attack on the fundamental rights of citizens to practise, profess and propagate their religion. Religion is a matter of personal choice and the government should not have any say in that,” said Ikram Beg Mirza of the Jamaat-e-Islami.
The main opposition Congress party too has opposed the bill. Congress legislators had walked to the governor’s house last week opposing the bill and the manner in which they were expelled from the assembly before it was passed.
The Anti-Conversion Bill has generated a lot of heat in Gujarat, a state that witnessed massive sectarian violence last year.
The BJP, which is known for its Hindu nationalist ideology, had promised to bring in an anti-conversion law during the campaign for the December assembly elections.
© Copyright 2003 IANS India Private Limited, New Delhi. Posted on Religioscope with permission.