Don’t Trample on Freedom of Faith: 12,000+ Sign Petition to Jharkand Governor

Photo Courtesy: UCAN News

Over 12,000 persons have signed an urgent petition to the Governor of Jharkand urging against constitutional endorsement of a anti-democratic law sought to be passed by the Jharkand Government. At present, a law passed by the Jharkand assembly is pending before her. The Governor of the State of Jharkhand in India has a big decision to make regarding the thousands of Christians and other religious minorities residing in her state. On August 1, 2017, the Jharkand Assembly has passed this controversial law.

Jharkhand Governor Draupadi Murmu has to decide on an anti-conversion Bill passed by the State Assembly earlier this month. If Murmu allows the Bill to become law, she risks putting in harm’s way Christians and other religious minorities living in Jharkhand, the petition says. Only five states in India now have such laws. But of those five states, two are among the top three states in India where violence against Christians is highest, the petition outlines.

Anti-conversion laws are supposed to stop people converting from Hinduism to Christianity. But, what they really do is infringe on the right of an Indian citizen to practise their religion as they see fit…and, to a right to privacy – both of which are guaranteed by India’s federal Constitution. The petition also says that there is no need of a new law: India’s federal Penal Code, Section 295(A), already deals with the issue of sectarian harmony, and the use of coercion and, or, “allurements” to entice people to convert from Hinduism to Christianity. These laws command stiff penalties, ranging from fines to imprisonment.

The  BJP, India’s ruling suprmecist party, is seeking to impose its Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) ideology in state law, so as to consolidate its political backing by those who vote for the party strictly for ideological-religious considerations. In line with that type of thinking, the new Bill is designed to make conversions more difficult because they will be made public – and, therefore, the convert may be subject to intimidation from his or her neighbours, family, colleagues, et al. Indeed, Section 5 of the Bill demands that any convert first seek the permission of the Deputy Commissioner of Jharkhand, and provide the details of the person who is performing the conversion.

Of course, a party, like the BJP, which is reliant on Hindu nationalists for its survival, might try to enact such legislation. But, local Christian leaders have queried the party’s evidence of “mass conversions” to Christianity, and insist that the party has not even demonstrated that such conversions are happening at all. It is further argued that there have not been any cases of violations of these laws in others states; on the contrary the mere existence of these anti-free choice provisions gives a coercive handle to the state macginery to act in close complicity with right wing organisations to intimidate and even incite violence against Christians. Conversions, if at all they are occurring for any other reason than for the lexercise of free choice by the individual indian guaranteed under article 25 of the Indian Constitution ‘the freedom to freely practice and propagate one’s faith.” This petition does not stress on all the aspects of “Fundamental Rights ” of Indian citizens.” It argues that the Indian State cannot mortgage the personal liberty of (choosing a faith) of a citizen in the hands of a petty bureaucrat like Dy Commisioner / Collector/ District Magistrate/ any one else. 

Now, several local, Christian organisations have joined, together, under the name “Rastriya Isai Mahasangh” (meaning, National Christian Federation), to oppose this measure as they are afraid that it will lead to the harassment of the Church and missionaries. Under these circumstances, the petition appeals to Jharkhand State Governor, Hon Draupadi Murmu, to return this Bill to the State Assembly, unapproved.
The petition may be read here and is also being copied to the US Secretary of state. Signatories have been asked to address their support petitions to:

  • Jharkhand State Governor – Hon Draupadi Murmu
  • The Prime Minister of India – Hon Narendra Modi
  • US Secretary of State – Mr Rex Tillerson

The petition cleraly says that ” By allowing this Bill to become law, you will, therefore, likely be making Jharkhand a more dangerous place for Christians and other religious minorities, precisely because Hindu nationalists are emboldened by such measures and sometimes use violence in place of dialogue. In fact, two of the top three states, where violence against Christians is highest, have enacted anti-conversion laws.”

Moreover, “the likelihood of communal disharmony, which will be disproportionately borne by Christians and other religious minorities, is too high a price to pay for internal or regional political considerations. Especially, when the federal Penal Code already deals sufficiently with these issues.”

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