Indian states told not to curb religious freedom through new laws. By Pervez Bari
31 Jul 2006
BHOPAL, (India) 30 July: Dr. John Dayal, Member National Integration Council, Government of India, has welcomed the statement of National Commission for Minorities, (NCM), Chairman Prof. Hamid Ansari asking State governments not to dilute religious freedom guaranteed in the Constitution of India by legislating new anti-conversion Bills.
The NCM chairman Prof. Ansari reportedly told Dr Dayal on Friday that the Commission was alive to the apprehensions of the Christian community. The NCM is the first Constitutional authority to have found the new Bills in contravention of the Statutes. The Commission has called upon the Madhya Pradesh and other state governments to resolve issues through dialogue.
Dr. Dayal said in a Press release that a statement signed by scores of Human rights activists belonging to various religious persuasions, and from all over the country, had presented to NCM protesting the so-called Freedom of religious bills being passed or aggravated by the governments of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. The Commission was also called upon to exercise it statutory power to call upon the state and central governments that their actions eroded fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution of Indian.
Similar appeals were also made to the President, Prime Minister, Governors and Chief Ministers of the concerned States and the National Human Rights Commission.
The NCM in a statement, issued by A. Banerji, Joint Secretary to the Govt. of India, said that it has received communications and representations from members of the public and community organizations expressing concern over reported efforts to abridge the Right to Freedom of Religion as expressed in Article 25 (1) of the Constitution of India under which "all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion".
The representations specifically drew the NCM attention to existing and recent pieces of legislation, imposing restrictions on religious conversions, in some States of the Indian Union. They expressed the view that while coercion is inadmissible in matters of faith, restrictions based on vague or unsubstantiated allegations of "inducement" and "allurement" have resulted in interference with the practice of religion and in hampering legitimate activity of propagation.
The representations asserted that such practices violate the guarantee given in Article 25; they also contravened India`s commitments under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. They urged the State Governments concerned to repeal such laws and urged all religious and political leaders to work together to find ways of "addressing disputes through dialogue and through non-violent, non-legislative and non-discriminatory ways".