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Minorities’ panel points to court

Ahmedabad, June 7: The chairman of the National Commission for Minorities, Tarlochan Singh, today told representatives of the Christian community that the commission could do nothing about the anti-conversion law enacted by the Gujarat government.

He advised them to approach the high court or Supreme Court to challenge the Freedom of Religion Act. Under the new law, modelled on Tamil Nadu’s Anti-conversion Act, anyone wishing to convert requires prior permission from the district authority. It is this requirement that Christians are opposed to.

Singh said he had asked the Gujarat government to delete this “objectionable clause” before the Bill was passed. But now that it had passed into law, the commission was powerless to make any change. Only the judiciary could effect changes, and for that to happen, the aggrieved would have to move court, Singh told the representatives.

The commission is on a two-day visit to Gujarat to review the situation here following complaints from minorities. It has received complaints about the anti-conversion law and midnight knocks at houses of minorities, especially Christians, for conducting a secret survey.

There have also been complaints about certain objectionable textbooks used in schools and the overriding fear felt by minorities in the state.

Speaking about the Vishwa Boudh Sangh’s mass conversion of Dalits to Buddhism on June 15, Singh said: “The commission is against any provocative act. We are against any irritants that cause social disharmony.’’

The commission chairman said he never supported the VHP’s trishul diksha (trident distribution) programme. “I was misquoted and it was projected as if I was supporting the diksha,’’ Singh said.

The four-member commission met minority leaders at the Circuit House after Singh met the home secretary and chief secretary in the morning. The chairman said top state officials had denied conducting any secret survey.

The commission warned officials that it would conduct an inquiry and recommend suitable action if it received any complaints. It said it had asked for the objectionable text books. After examining them, it will direct the government to take corrective measures if required.

Speaking about the minorities’ fear psychosis, the commission chairman said “the war-like situation’’ in Gujarat was “disastrous”. But he added that minorities should realise that maintaining peace and cordial relations was essential.

Ahmedabad mayor Aneesa Mirza was asked what she felt about the situation in the state. “I told them that what Gujarat needs at the moment is peace and social harmony. This will make the state liveable for the minority community. I believe nobody can drive out minorities from Gujarat,’’ Mirza said.

The mayor told the commission that minorities needed to support all positive steps taken by the Narendra Modi government.

Those in charge of madrasas in Gujarat were among those who gathered at the Chhipa community hall here to meet the commission. Speaking on the occasion, Kari Mohammad Miya, chairman of the National Minority Development Finance Corporation, said he would be the first to burn down any madrasa found to be permitting anti-national activity.

Miya regretted that a campaign had been launched across the country, and Gujarat in particular, to malign madrasas, depicting them as nurseries of anti-India activity. He challenged Modi to prove that this was the case. The Gujarat government has recently set up a task force to monitor the activities of madrasas.

The commission team, comprising Singh, vice chairman M.S. Usmani, General Sethna and V.V. Augustine later met Modi and informed him of the feedback they had received.

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