INDIA NEWS, JULY 22, 2OO6
Bhopal – People in Madhya Pradesh opting for conversion will now have to inform district officials about their decision a month in advance or else face at least three years’ imprisonment, according to the proposed amendments to the state’s Freedom of Religion Act.
The amendments, already approved at a recent cabinet meeting, are soon going to become a law in the state, official sources said.
Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said the necessary bill is likely to be presented in the current session of the state assembly that ends July 28.
‘Yes, a bill to amend the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act might be presented in the assembly’s current session,’ Chouhan told IANS.
‘The existing law provides that a person should inform the district authority within a month of changing his religion but as per the new provision in the offing, he will now have to inform one month in advance,’ said a senior minister.
‘Also the religious head who would conduct the ‘conversion proceedings’ would have to inform the district administration 15 days in advance.’
On the alleged harassment of Christians in the state, Chouhan said strict action would be taken whenever such cases are reported.
‘There is no harassment; justice is meted out to all. There is no discrimination on the grounds of religion or community,’ he said.
However, protesting the proposed bill, the Madhya Pradesh Christian Association alleged that the government was trying to interfere with the religious freedom of minorities.
Indira Iyengar, president of the association, said the government was bringing amendments to the anti-conversion bill to encourage communal forces.
She urged Governor Balram Jakhar to return the bill when it reaches him.
Iyenger denied allegations that Christian missionaries in the state were converting tribals forcibly.
‘The community is being implicated in false cases. It is facing increasing attacks – over two dozens this year alone – by Hindu outfits mostly on false charges of converting tribals to Christianity.’
‘We are worried about the increasing number of attacks,’ said Anand Muttungal, spokesperson of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Madhya Pradesh.
‘I fail to understand why law enforcement agencies are not acting against the perpetrators.’
The governor too is reported to have written six letters to the state government seeking investigation into the reports of violence.
The home department, however, has either given a clean chit to the attackers or denied that the incidents ever took place, the minority organisations allege.