NEW DELHI, India, MAY 24, 2004 (Zenit.org).- The bishops’ conference in India reacted positively to news that a law aimed at “forced conversions” might be repealed in the state of Tamil Nadu.
The law, in force since October 2002, obliges those who wanted to convert to another religion to ask permission from the local magistrate. It establishes severe sanctions, including imprisonment, for anyone who resorts to force or bribery to get another to embrace a new creed.
The announcement of the desire to repeal the law, made by state Prime Minister Jayaram Jayalalitha, “is a positive sign that infuses new hope in the Christian community and in all religious minorities,” said Father Babu Joseph Karakombil, spokesman for the Catholic bishops’ conference.
“When the measure was approved, there were many protests by religious minorities in Tamil Nadu and in the whole of India,” the priest told the Vatican agency Fides. “We said at the time that this law was an attack on the fundamental right of every citizen to be able freely choose, profess and practice his own religious faith.”
He noted: “The new election results have seen the defeat of the Bharatiya Janata Party and of the All India Dravida Munnetra Kazhakam, of which the prime minister of the state is a member.” The latter, he said, “has understood that it has made some decisions that have made its government unpopular and has tried to repair it.”
This is why it has announced the “repeal of the law on conversions,” Father Karahombil said. “Now we await the approval of the State Assembly, which will come easily.”
“Now we expect and request energetically that it also be removed in four other states of the federation in which a similar measure is in force: Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh and Orissa,” he continued.
“We are confident of the support of large sectors of Indian society, of all the religious minorities, and also of progressive and liberal Hindus, who have opposed this type of measures from the beginning,” the spokesman added.
The anti-conversion law was presented after news arrived from several towns of Tamil Nadu of mass conversions of dalits and “casteless” to Christianity.
On several occasions, Indian bishops condemned the disposition, declaring that it was discriminatory, unconstitutional and harmful to fundamental liberties.