Madhya Pradesh Governor Seeks Legal Advice on Anti-Conversion Bill. By Pervez Bari


Bhopal, August 7: Madhya Pradesh Governor Dr. Balram Jakhar has sought legal advice on the controversial amendments to the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act 1968 passed scrumptiously in the State legislative assembly last month. And in another major opposition to the notorious law, the Madhya Pradesh`s Christian community has appealed to the international civil society to picket and question the State Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan who is soon touring the West on a hunt for major investments for the minerals-rich central Indian State. Madhya Pradesh and its neighboring States have seen a rash of anti-Christian violence in recent months. Governor Jakhar last evening reportedly told a delegation of the All India Christian Council led by Dr. Abraham Mathai, recently re-appointed vice chairman of the Maharashtra Minorities Commission for a five year term, that he had sought the opinion of experts in Constitutional law on the legislation which has alarmed the minority community and the Human Rights world. Madhya Pradesh has had a law against forcible and induced conversions for 40 years, but the recent amendments, as in the case of Chhattisgarh, aggravate the punitive provisions to target Christian priests and seriously curb the freedom of faith guaranteed by the Constitution. They also, by default, encourage conversions of tribals to Hinduism by leaving such actions outside the purview of the legislation. The piece of legislation itself was passed under highly controversial circumstances. It was one of nine sets of new Bills that were rushed through the State Legislative Assembly on a voice vote even as the House was in an uproar in a confrontation between the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, (BJP), members and those of the opposition Congress. Congress president Mrs. Sonia Gandhi has already told the Christian Council leadership that her party is opposed to the anti-conversion laws being passed in States ruled by the BJP. Over 60 representatives of various denominations of Christians in the Bhopal division who met for the Christian Council meeting in the State capital Bhopal endorsed the 15-point charter of demands presented by National Integration Council member Dr John Dayal to the National Commission for Minorities and the Union Government. The memorandum calls, among other issues, for National White Papers on the development status of Christians sin the country and the numbers of forcible or fraudulent Conversions recorded in various States. The meeting noted that the State Chief Minister Chouhan was taking a team of his ministers on a tour of the Western world to harness Non-Resident Indian funds and foreign institutional investments in the State which has vast reserves of natural resources. The meeting said they would canvass with Indian and international human rights and freedom of faith groups across the globe to picket and challenge the Chief Minister and his delegation wherever they went. The Chief Minister would be asked why his State and party as opposed to Christians and why was it curbing the freedom of faith of the people. It may be mentioned here that recently BJP leader Vjayeraje Scindia, the Chief Minister of neighbouring Rajasthan state, had visited the West for funds soon after banning conversions in the State. A third BJP Chief Minister Narendra Modi of Gujarat was denied a visa to the United States last year after the international human rights community objected to his support to the massacre of the Muslim community in the State in 2002.

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