“Jharkhand Freedom of Religion Bill 2017”- A draconian measure to throttle individual freedom of religion in one more Indian State

To 07-08-2017
The News Editor, Electronic and Print Media,

Dear Sir,

Subject: “Jharkhand Freedom of Religion Bill 2017”- A draconian measure to throttle individual freedom of religion in one more Indian State

On the 8th of this month one more State in the country, the State of Jharkhand, would initiate its draconian measures to throttle the individual freedom to choose one’s religious belief, but as usual, it is very innocently titled as, “Freedom of Religion” Bill. The Bill will be tabled in the upcoming Monsoon Session of the Legislative Assembly which begins on 8th August 2017. The Bill is to come into force from its date of issuance.

Of course, it is a foregone conclusion that not much thinking on the subject would take place and it would be bull-dozed in the Assembly to make it a Law in one more State of our country. The only purpose is to empower one more State with a legal stick to beat with whom they dislike, the minorities, specifically being the members of the Christian community, and more specifically being the evangelists whom, they apprehend that they with a magic wand would transform the entire country into a Christian nation in a few years’ time, though in all reality, the Christian population in India is steadily dwindling, and as on now, it has come to down to 2.3%. No doubt, Christians may have a large number of sympathizers simply because of their Christian belief and way of life. The real fact is that they, the fundamental forces in the country just cannot swallow Christ’s teaching or the Christian belief, and so block them by all means at any cost. That is precisely what they are doing. These, so called religious freedom laws, are already in existence in the States of Arunachal Pradesh, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat. They were made in Rajasthan, and were made and withdrawn in Tamil Nadu.

With this, the radical Hindu fundamentalists in the State would be legally armed to wreak havoc with the members of the minority communities in the country with whom they have a number of personal scores to settle, and block the spread of humanitarian Christian principles in the country, exactly as is being done in a pervert manner in the lawless country like Pakistan, where they conveniently use blasphemy laws. It is an open secret in the world today, that the fundamentalist elements of the majority communities in these two countries, use these laws, though differently named, to further marginalize their helpless and poor members of the minority communities, unfortunately in both countries, the Christians being the common victims. It is a great tragedy that a great country like India too is forced to stoop itself to such low standards, nauseating means and methods, to settle some personal or imaginary scores with helpless and marginalized sections of Indian society.

Section 3 of the draft of Jharkhand Bill says, “No person shall attempt to convert, either directly or otherwise, any person from one religion / religious faith to another by use of force or by allurement or by any fraudulent means, nor shall any person abet any such conversion.” Violation of the terms of the above section shall invite imprisonment up to three years or Rupees 50,000 or both. In case the violation involves a minor, a woman or a person from the SC/ST community, the prison term would be up to four years and the penalty up to Rupees 1 lakh.

Section 5 of the draft also makes prior permission mandatory for conversion and demands that the person who converts any other person from one religion / religious faith to another, either by performing the ceremony himself for such conversion as a religious priest or takes part directly or indirectly in such ceremony shall take prior permission for such proposed conversion from the District Magistrate by applying in such form as may be prescribed by rules. The draft also demands that the convert intimates the District Magistrate of the District in which the conversion ceremony has taken place of the fact of such conversion “within such period and such form as may be prescribed by the rule.” Failure to comply with the provisions of Section 5 of the draft will invite imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or with fine which may extend to five thousand rupees or both.

The sad fact is that also no government in the country has been able to adduce any proof or evidence over half a century of aggressive implementation of such laws, of any forcible conversions by Christians against whom such laws are essentially targeted. There are hardly any convictions in courts to sustain police and political allegations of forcible and fraudulent conversions. As a matter of fact, the Himachal Pradesh High Court, a few years ago, struck down efforts by the government to force prior approval, after the Evangelical Fellowship of India moved a petition along with other parties.

More surprising are efforts by the governments, to uphold if not encourage, conversions from Christianity and other religions to the majority systems, giving the people allurement of reservations and other rights.

The law comes in the backdrop of a well-orchestrated demand, in fact a promise, by the ruling BJP, for a national legislation. This will go against not just Constitutional guarantees of freedom of faith for citizens who profess religions other than Hinduism, but will also violate the federal structure in which law and order is a state subject.

The anti-conversion laws have brought India unnecessary opprobrium internationally. Anti-conversion laws are routinely listed as the negative practices of the Indian system, in review of our Human Rights record at various international fora. As with the anti-Dalit Christian laws, the so called anti-conversion laws, ironically titled freedom of religion laws, are actually aimed at taking away the freedom of religion and rights of Tribals and other marginalized sections of the Indian society.

Freedom of religion in India is a fundamental right guaranteed by Article 25-28 of the Constitution of India. Modern India came into existence in 1947 and the Indian constitution's preamble was amended in 1976 to state that India is a secular state.
Freedom of Conscience (inner self), free profession of any religion (declaration of your faith in openness), free practice of any religion (rituals, ways of worships), and free propagation of any religion, is available to both citizens and foreigners in the country. Incidentally, of course, propagation does not include forced conversions. In all reality, the terms like “forced conversion, conversion by allurement and fraudulent means” have really lost their very meaning in India today as they are so misinterpreted by the concerned executives and the fundamental forces to pin down whom they dislike, as their gullible victims.
It is indeed very ironic and tragic too that the fundamental forces in India today have a free hand to use all sorts of gimmicks and underhand means to deny human rights to the weakest and the smallest in the country, when we think of the fact that India played a great role in shaping the very Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The Indian delegation to the United Nations made important contributions in drafting of the Declaration. India is a signatory to the six core human rights covenants. As per Article 18, everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance. The United Nations has reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person. The Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
A large number of people of goodwill in India today, who can really see the truth, are greatly disturbed with the fast changing manipulated Indian scenario. They are greatly concerned at the steady shift we see in our country from a pluralist, secular, democracy to a Hindu Rashtra. What used to be fringe, has now become mainstream. There is a systematic design to undermine the Constitution. Official machinery often seems working in tandem with the ‘vigilantes’. Street lynching, victims charged as accused, stage-managed trials; all on the basis of one’s religious and caste identities. Media seems mute, silent in self-censorship, coerced by the state, or leashed by its corporate ownership. Fake News is the final straw. Finally, what is at stake? The country risks a hierarchical order and an ideology eroding, containing and overwhelming the liberty, equality and fraternity bequeathed us by the Freedom Struggle as an ‘idea of India' for the modern age. A new coercive culture, steered mob-inspired killers, is destroying lives and families amongst us. Fear stalks the land.

Based on the Biblical values of justice, right, freedom, dignity and the well-being of every human being, we, the members of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), firmly believe that every right thinking person in India today, should be part of every civil initiative for truth, reconciliation and peace, and that any erosion, dilution, infringement or violation of Constitutional rights to life and liberty must also invite a response from the church as it does from people at large. We, of the GCIC, are also of the strong belief that this great ancient land would certainly withstand all the manipulations and the passing gimmicks resorted to by short-sighted political conglomerations, as we have seen them often during the last 70 years of our Independence. But what we fear is the damage such forces can cause to the very ethos and the progress of this great nation, as has happened in many other parts of the world putting the clock backwards. Hence, it is time that all of us, all Indian citizens, regardless of our religious and ideological differences, woke up and fought against the negative forces having free joy rides at the cost of the very future of our nation.

Even at this late moment we hope and pray that better sense would prevail upon the legislators of Jharkhand and they would give up their unpleasant task of enacting a negative law in their State and rise above the religious bigotry and prove themselves as a model to the rest of the country. In the meantime we also appeal to the Union Government run by the BJP, use its good offices to shun religious hatred and try to usher in an era of religious harmony in the country and earn a good name at the international level in view of its glorious past, especially in view of our attempts at becoming a member of the prestigious body at the international level, the Security Council of the U.N.O.

We also wish to appeal to the National Human Rights Commission to initiate immediate measures to study and deal appropriately at the all India level the repeated and painful pin pricks systematically administered to the members of the minority communities in the country by the radical Hindu forces in connivance with various government agencies at all levels, and scuttle the process of fair play and justice to the aggrieved members of the minority communities with regard to their constitutional right of religious freedom to practice, preach and propagate the religious beliefs of their choice.

We would be very thankful if you could kindly give the necessary coverage to our press release and oblige.

Thanking you,

Yours faithfully,
For Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC),

Prof John B Kutinha
Director for Public Affairs