The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Council eyes court option

New Delhi, Oct. 7: Even as the BJP, the RSS and other parivar outfits hailed the Tamil Nadu Ordinance banning the use of force or inducement in religious conversions, Christian and Muslim organisations today sharply reacted to the Ordinance. The All India Christian Council has even threatened to challenge the move in court.

The council said various state governments, who have raised the issue of induced or forcible conversions, have failed to find out even a single such case in the past. The council added that while a similar law in Orissa had already been challenged, it was consulting legal experts on the Tamil Nadu Ordinance.

Dominic Emmanuel, spokesperson for the Delhi Catholic Archdiocese, said if religious conversions could be banned, “political conversion” should also be stopped. “When political parties are allowed to convert people into their ideologies, why is conversion to another faith opposed'” he asked.

The council leaders alleged that inducements by fraud and fear are being carried out by the Bajrang Dal, the VHP and the RSS in tribal areas under the guise of “ghar wapsi” programmes, where “innocent tribals are being forced to become Hindus”.

The leaders also wondered whether “education” will be construed as “inducement” as interpreted by a Shiv Sena MP, who authored a Bill against conversion that is pending before the Lok Sabha.

Terming the new Ordinance as a serious infringement of the freedom of religion, the All-India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat said the Constitution grants anyone not only the right to freely profess and practise a religion of one’s choice, but also to propagate it. “Change of faith is not a criminal act but a human and constitutional right. The Ordinance is, therefore, ill- conceived and unconstitutional,” AIMMM member Syed Shahabuddin said.

Vice-president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India Vincent M. Concessao said the Church was also against forceful religious conversions “but our fear is that this Ordinance should not be discriminately used against minorities”. Asked if the CBCI was planning legal recourse, the Archbishop said: “We have to study the Ordinance first and consult legal opinion and then decide on the future course of action.”

“The move is possibly to make the BJP happy,” the Christian council leaders said, adding: “Forcible or induced conversion is an oxymoron. It is not possible and is rejected by the church. Conversion is the exercise of free choice by an individual in fulfilment of his or her own spiritual needs. This is a basic human right and is guaranteed in the Indian Constitution and by the UN.”

Admitting that the Ordinance had some “grey areas”, the CBCI vice-president said after examining the same, they will like the state government to “spell out” the Ordinance in “black and white”.

Giving the details of the activities of Caritas, Concessao said the organisation was proposing to set-up a national centre for environmental studies in the social sector and build 40 rural hostels to benefit the rural poor, especially girl children on its 40th anniversary this year.

Already promoting seven lakh self-help groups among rural communities, the Caritas has mobilised about Rs 85 crore for the relief reconstruction and rehabilitation of Gujarat earthquake victims, Concessao, also Delhi Archbishop, said.

Caritas India, has been in the forefront of disaster response to provide relief, trauma-care and restoration to the victims of natural calamities, specially the poor and the downtrodden, John L Noronha, executive director of Caritas said.

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