Chennai, Oct. 6: The Jayalalithaa government has pushed through a midnight Ordinance banning religious conversion by “force, allurement or fraudulent means”, winning accolades from the BJP and triggering potshots that she is drifting closer to the Central coalition.
The Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Forcible Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2002, stipulates a prison term extending up to three years and a maximum fine of Rs 50,000 for forcible conversion. The punishment is stiffer for converting a minor, a woman or a person belonging to the Scheduled Castes or the Scheduled Tribes — a maximum jail term of four years and fine extending up to Rs 1 lakh.
The Ordinance, issued by Governor P.S. Ramamohan Rao late last night, came into effect immediately, taking political circles by surprise.
Parties are intrigued by the timing and the haste with which the state government has pushed through a law that could have far-reaching effects. When the Assembly’s monsoon session has been convened for October 24, why this haste, asked senior CPM secretariat member G. Ramakrishnan. He said the move looked to “be one more step” in the direction of the ADMK getting closer to the BJP.
Few seemed convinced by claims in official circles that one of its objectives is to deter religious fundamentalist terrorist outfits from using conversion as a tool to gain strength. “When constitutional provisions are already there against forcible conversion from one religion to another, there is no need for such an Ordinance or law at the state level,” said Ramakrishnan.
Welcoming Jayalalithaa’s move, senior state BJP leader L. Ganesan contended that the constitutional provisions might be against forceful religious conversion, but there is no law to punish such offences. Hence, there was a need for a state-level legislation and states like Orissa and Madhya Pradesh already have such a law in place, he said.
The Orissa law — the Freedom of Religion Act — was introduced by a Congress government after the uproar that followed the murder of Christian missionary Graham Staines and his sons.
Ganesan said such a law at the state level has been the BJP’s demand from its Jan Sangh days. “I appreciate Dr J. Jayalalithaa for her bold decision.”