BHOPAL, July 24: About 100 bodies and well-known reputed persons drawn from Protestant, Roman Catholic, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist faiths and none representing a broad range of religious communities and organizations from all over India have expressed serious concerns over the move to curtail the freedom to freely profess, practice and propagate religion as enshrined in the Constitution of India.
In a joint statement they have stated that one of the most basic rights is the freedom to adopt, change, practice, teach and observe the teaching of a religion. This is set out in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights besides in Constitution of India.
Five states in India have already enacted legislation which restricts or impairs the right of citizens to freely convert from one religion to another. "As the Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh Government introduce their own law, we believe that we must raise our voice", the statement said.
The statement went on to say that furthermore, these laws deepen and worsen religious divisions, conflicts and violence instead of enhancing the search for religious tolerance, harmony and mutual respect. "While we unreservedly condemn any unethical or improper conduct, and any `forced conversions`, on the part of evangelists and religious teachers in their efforts to communicate their faith, we believe that the use of the terms `force`, `fraud` and `allurement` have been poorly defined in the legislation, and that the vague definitions both restrict religious and charitable activities, and create ample opportunity for abuse and unjust prosecution", it pointed out.
The statement stated that enshrining these terms in legislation gives credence to the rhetoric used by extremists against religious minorities, and publicly legitimizes opposition to a wide range of religious activities. "We believe these laws are superfluous and serve only to intimidate religious minorities and to obstruct freedom of faith", they said.
They especially abhorred the additional penal provisions in four state laws, where the converted person is a woman or a member of the Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes, and call for full freedom of faith for the most vulnerable sections of Indian society.
They urged the Governments of Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Arunachal Pradesh, Gujarat and Rajasthan to repeal these unjust laws.
They called on all the religious and political leaders in India to work together to find ways of addressing disputes through dialogue and through non-violent, non-legislative and non-discriminatory ways. "We call for a new climate of equal rights, religious freedom and harmony based on mutual respect for one another as human beings", the statement emphasized, and finally, urged the international community to support their call.
Meanwhile, it may be mentioned here that a Bill was tabled in the Madhya Pradesh Legislative Assembly seeking amendment in the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 1968 here on Friday last.
The bill provides for making it mandatory for individuals intending to convert as also the priest conducting the conversion ceremony to inform the district magistrate.
One of the main provisions of the Bill is that the priest in Madhya Pradesh, who will conduct conversion ceremony or is directly or indirectly associated with it, will have to undergo imprisonment up to one year or pay fine up to Rs 5,000 or both for failing to inform the district magistrate within a month in the prescribed proforma stating the name and address of the converted along with the date and venue of conversion.
While the individual concerned will have to pay fine up to Rs 1,000 if he fails to inform in advance through a declaration to the district magistrate or empowered executive magistrate about his/her intention to voluntarily
convert from one religion to another.
The signatories to the joint statement are: Ms Susan K.E. Alexander, Advocate, Mumbai; Gollapalli Ambedkar, Vice President, Ambedkar Dharma Porata Samithi; Ms Tehmina Arora, General Secretary, Christian Legal Association of India; B. Arunkumar, Founder President, Dr Ambedkar Educational Society, Vizag; Awtar Singh Bahar, Advocate, Supreme Court of India, (SCI); Gaddam Balakrishna, President, Andhra Pradesh Arundhathi Bandhu Seva Mandali; A. Balanadham, Hon. President, Dalitha Praja Samithi; Anshuman Bhomia, Advocate, Delhi Bar Association; M. Dharma Bodhi, Ambedkar Dharma Porata Samithi; Gudapati Brahmaiah, President, Dalitha Bahujana Sramika Union; B.S. Chalam, Convener & Miss K. Damayanthi, Co-convener, Janachaitanya Mandali, (AP); S. Chandaraiah, All India General Secretary & P. Yadgiri, State President, All India Samantha Sainik Dal, (AISSD), Hyderabad; B.D. Das, Advocate, High Court of Orissa; Rev. Manes Das, Executive Secretary & Director, Eternal Life Fellowship Society; Dr. John Dayal, President, All India Catholic Union, Secretary General, All India Christian Council & Member of National Integration Council; P. Indira Devi, President, Bahujan Teachers Association; Ronald D`Souza, Advocate, High Court of Karnataka; Dr. Joseph D`Souza, President, All India Christian Council & International President, Dalit Freedom Network; Linus Emmanuel, Advocate, High Court of Goa; Manoj V. George, Advocate SCI; Ingilala Gnanabhodi, President, Ambedkar Dharma Porata Samithi; Kallu Gopal, President, Dalit Rights Protection Society, Hyderabad; Dr. Gopinath, Director, Phule Ambedkar National Institute of Social Sciences; William Gordon, Project Coordinator, Awana Clubs India; C. Bala Guruvaiah, Ambedkar Dharma Porata Samithi; B. Harinath, President, AP Buddhist Trust, Hyderabad; Rev. Richard Howells, General Secretary, Evangelical Fellowship of India; Prof. Dr Kancha Ilaiah, Head of Political Science Department, Osmania University; Zafar-ul-Islam, General Secretary, Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind; Bishop Francis Jackson, Karnataka Fellowship of Independent Churches; Philip Jadhav, Coordinator, National Council of Churches of India; Alex Joseph, Advocate SCI; Mohan Kadambavanam, National Director, Awana Clubs India; Siddiram Kamble, President, Dr B.R. Ambedkar Buddhist Society; Qasim, State President, Federation of Progressive Fronts, Karnataka; Dr. Zafar-ul-Islam Khan, General Secretary, All India Muslim Majlis-e Mushawarat, Editor, The Milli Gazette; M. Mala Kondaiah, Ambedkar Dharma Porata Samithi; Fr. George Koovackal Director, Messengers of Peace & Harmony; Ganta Suresh Kumar, Convener, Janachaitanya Mandali, Andhra Pradesh; Korivi Vinaya Kumar President, Dalit Bahujan Front; K. Ashok Kumar, General Secretary, Andhra Pradesh Dalitha Kalamandali; M. Prema Kumar, President, All India Confederation of SC/ST Organizations; M. Raj Kumar, Secretary, Andhra Pradesh Ambedkar Yuvajana, Hyderabad; S. Varun Kumar, President, Bahujana Vignana Kendram Trust; B. Leela Kumari, Convener, Dalit Women Literary Parishad; Jessy Kurian, Advocate SCI; Vijayesh Lal, Coordinator, Religious Liberty Commission, Evangelical Fellowship of India; Polepaka Jesroon Levi, Advocate, Nagpur; Manoj Macwan, Advocate, Gujarat Bar Association Legal Advisor, Church of North India; John Matthew, Advocate, High Court of Kerala; Prof. Dr Tahir Mahmood, Chairman, Amity University Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, Member of National Committee for Religious and Linguistic Minorities; Mariswamy, State President, Dalit Christian Federation, Karnataka; Bishop Karam Masih, Church of North India; Mani Mekkunnel, Secretary, Conference on Religious India; Ms Aneesa Begum Mirza, former Mayor, Ahmedabad; P. Muniyappa, President, Buddhist Society of India, Andhra Pradesh; K. Dhinakar Murthy, General Secretary, Ambedkar Dharma Porata Samithi; K.S.N Murthy, Division In-Charge, Janachaitanya Mandali, Andhra Pradesh; M. Muthanna, President, SC Rights Protection Society; I. Mysaiah, State President, Andhra Pradesh Ambedkar Yuvajana, Hyderabad; Gadipe Nagaiah, President, Dalitha Sanghala Parishat; J.Narayana, President, Dr Ambedkar Yuvajana Sangram, Nizamabad; Fr. C.M. Paul, Former President, Signis India; B. Patnaik, Director of Support Services, Evangelical Fellowship of India, Commission on Relief; Rev. Dr. Enos Das Pradhan, General Secretary & Chairperson, National Council of Churches of India; Dappu Prasad, General Secretary, Janachaitanya Mandali, AP; P. Pavan Prasad, Convener, Janachaitanya Mandali, AP; Rev. Manohar Prasad, Presbyter-in-Charge, Karnataka Central Diocese, Church of South India; Dondapudi Mohan Prasad, Convener, DBF Kala Mandali; K. Praveen, President, Ambedkar Jana Jagruthi Sena; Dr Udit Raj, President, Indian Justice Party, Chair, All India Confederation of SC/ST Organizations, Member of National Integration Council; Dr V.T. Rajshekar, Editor, Dalit Voice; M.P. Raju, Supreme Court Advocate; Boge Raja Ram, General Secretary, Andhra Pradesh Ambedkar Yuvajana, Hyderabad; Kaki Ramarao, Convener, Janachaitanya Mandali, AP; Admiral L. Ramdas, former Chief, Indian Navy; Rapolu Ramulu, President, Ambedkar Sanghala Samakya, Hyderabad; D. Kalyana Rao, President, Bharatiya Buddha Parishat, Vizag; G. Muralidhar Rao, President, All India SC/ST Rights Protection; K. Venkateshwara Rao, State EC members, Ambedkar Dharma Porata Samithi; L. Krishna Rao, President, Janachaitanya Mandali, AP; N. Babu Rao, General Secretary, Andhra Pradesh Dalitha Mahasabha; Rajeswar Rao,
Co-convener, Janachaitanya Mandali, AP; Aparna Ray, SCI Advocate; Rajiv Rufus, SCI Advocate; Lansinglu Rongmei, Advocate, New Layer Chamber Supreme Court; Rev. Sunil Sarhar, Convener, Truth Seekers Society International; Y.B. Satyanarayana, President, Center for Dalit Studies; Ms Mary Scaria, SCI Advocate, Justice & Peace Commission; Stephen Ronojit Sen, Director, Hand of Hope Legal Services; Bheema Sena, President, Bahujana Natya Mandali; K.M. Shareef, President, Karnataka Forum for Dignity; I. Shekar, President, Andhra Pradesh SC/ST Sarpanchula Sangram; Dr Yoginder Sikand, ex-Professor of Islamic Studies, Jamia Milia Islamia; Prashand Solomon, Organizing Secretary, United Christian Action; Ella Sonawane, Assistant Secretary, Indian Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge; Singaram Sureshkumar, Advocate, Chennai; Kamal Sultanpuri, Solicitors & Advocates, Fox Mandal; M. Venkata Swamy, Treasurer, All India Saamatha Sainik Dal, Hyderabad; K. Vidyasagar, Vice President, Andhra Pradesh Ambedkar Yuvajana, Hyderabad; Dilip E. Williams, Director, New Delhi YMCA; C.L.Yadagiri, President, Jajjanaka Kala Mandali. (firstname.lastname@example.org)