New Delhi, July 20 (Compass) — The infomercial, made by the Mumbai-based Indian Infotainment Media Corporation (IIMC), begins with a scene showing two dogs fighting and a voice-over saying, “You cannot change their nature.”
In the next scene, a cow grazes quietly in a green field while the voice says, “You cannot make this cow a non-vegetarian.” The screen then goes black, and the voice says, “So why attempt to change someone’s religion?”
The infomercial concludes with the text of the Gujarat state Freedom of Religion Act of 2003, which prohibits conversion “by the use of force or allurement or by fraudulent means.”
Under terms of the Act, would-be converts need permission from district officials before they convert. Priests or religious officials must also contact district authorities before a conversion takes place. Failure to comply with these requirements can lead to imprisonment for up to four years and a maximum fine of 100,000 rupees ($2,294).
On June 30, the Gujarat High Court rejected a petition lodged in 2003 by the All India Christian Council (AICC) and a Buddhist organization, the Buddha Gaya Mahabodhi Vihar, which challenged the constitutional validity of the state anti-conversion law. The High Court ruled that the petition was premature since the law had not yet been implemented.
The Gujarat state government has yet to bring the law into effect. “Therefore,” Samson Christian, joint secretary of the AICC, told Compass, “the screening of the film is totally unlawful, and it is misguiding the people of Gujarat.”
Four other Indian states have passed laws to combat “unethical” or “forced” conversions. Madhya Pradesh passed the first definitive anti-conversion law in 1966; Orissa in 1967; Arunachal Pradesh in 1978; and Tamil Nadu in October 2002.
Gujarat state officials said they knew nothing about IIMC’s public service film, the Times of India reported.
Cinema staff in Vadodara said the IIMC gave them the infomercial for free as a tool to raise awareness of the state anti-conversion law.
“I don’t understand why people are making such a fuss when [the film] is just repeating what the law says,” Devendra Khandelwal, chief executive officer of the IIMC, told reporters.
Khandelwal, who is also the president of the Indian Association of Producers, Artists and Technicians of Short Films and Television Programs, said the piece was made to “educate” cinema audiences about the law.
“Moreover, I want to convey … that conversion from one religion to another, either by force or fraud, is illegal and one can be punished,” he said. IIMC has agreements with some 600 theaters throughout India to screen films, he added.
All Indian cinemas are required to show documentary films before they screen full-length movies, but the requirement is largely ignored. When a short film is shown, the producer earns one percent of the earnings from cinema attendance.
© 2005 Compass Direct. – Posted on Religioscope with permission from Compass Direct. – Compass Direct (Santa Ana, California) is a Christian news service dedicated to providing news on situations and events facing Christians persecuted for their faith. Compass Direct maintains an extensive network of news bureaus and correspondents around the world.