India: February 22, 2007. The following is the text of the statement by All India Christian council secretary general Dr John Dayal, Member of the National Integration Council, Government of India, Christian Legal Association joint secretary Advocate Lansinglu Rongmei, National Conference of Dalit Organizations North India Convener Rakesh Bahadur, SC ST Federation national secretary Madhu Chandra to the Press in Shimla, at the conclusion of the Meeting of Priests, Pastors and Dalit leaders in the Himachal Pradesh Capital. The meeting was called to discuss the Governor`s assent to the notorious Himachal Freedom of Religion Bill, persecution of Pastors and activist in the Himalayan state and connected matters.
The All India Christian Council and fraternal Christian, Dalit and mass movement organizations have decided to challenge the Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act 2006 in the Himachal High Court.
We have also decided to take the issue to the Supreme Court in case we do not get urgent relief at the State level where we are still urging the Governor, Chief Minister, as well as the Congress leadership in New Delhi including Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, to rescind the Act which was given Governor`s assent two days ago in a surreptious manner without the matter being discussed at public fora, or even in the state assembly at any length. It is a matter of shame and concern to Democratic India that Congress ruled state such a Himachal Pradesh has enforced mock Freedom of religion act to target Christians and Buddhists at par with the law in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh.
We are astounded that Himachal has gone ahead with the Act though Mrs. Gandhi in a letter to Dr John Dayal last year had said her party was opposed to such legislation.
We wish to point out that Tamil Nadu, which had passed such an Act in similar haste under the then Chief Minister Jayalalalitha had to withdraw it after she lost the general elections and the DMK came to power. That legislation was rejected by the people as it violated the Fundamental Rights of the common people, especially of the Dalits in the state.
It has been our experience that though this act has the misleading title of Freedom of Religion, its intention is just the reverse .It favors a particular religion and denies the people any freedom of faith. It encourages conversion to what is called religion of forefathers, without defining such a religion. The Act also encourages fundamentalist groups such as the RSS, the Bajrang Dal and the Shiv Sena to target Christian religion and educational activities. It hinders freedom of movement, making it impossible for any Christian in fact to go to rural areas. This has been our experience in states such as Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh.
We welcome all efforts by state and central governments for improving the secular reality of India and bringing development to the poor. We have already welcomed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh`s recent statements committing development funds for the North East and other under developed areas. We have also wholeheartedly welcomed the report of the Justice Sachchar Committee and the Manmohan Singh government`s action programme for Muslim welfare that has followed the Sachchar report.
Despite our several requests in the last two years to the Prime Minister and to United Progressive Alliance chairperson Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, the Christian community has been denied a similar assessment of its economic infirmity, rural backwardness, urban poverty and utter lack of financial resources. For want of such resource and such support, the Christian community has not been able to take steps to benefit from economic liberalization, self employment and entrepreneurship resulting from economic liberation.
The plight of the Dalit Christians continues to be abysmal because they have been denied all benefits of Scheduled Castes in a most illegal and criminal manner by past governments. We call on Dr Manmohan Singh to instruct the Indian government`s Counsel to support the Dalit Christian cause in the Supreme Court when hearings are held on Dalit Petition in April this year.
We also draw the attention of the Prime Minister and his government to the continued high pitched hate campaign against the Christian community in several parts of the country, in states ruled by the Congress as much as in states ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party or its other communal allies.