Activism Thousands join campaign against anti-conversion laws in India

Thousands join campaign against anti-conversion laws in India

02/13/22: Thousands of people cutting across religions have demanded the repeal of all anti-conversion laws in India.

The demand comes ahead of February 14 when the Karnataka government plans to table the Anti-Conversion Bill in the state’s Upper House.

Prominent signatories of the petition to the Indian president of India included among others Admiral L Ramdas, former Chief of Naval Staff of the Indian Navy, Mallika Sarabhai, accomplished dancer and choreographer, Medha Patkar, social activist, Anand Patwardhan, film Maker and Mani Shankar Aiyar, former federal minister.

They assert the new anti-conversion law is unnecessary, since the Indian Constitution has enough provisions to curtail fraudulent religious conversions. `Wherever the anti-conversion law, ironically officially called Freedom of Religion Act, was passed, it became a justification for the persecution of the minorities and other marginalized identities” the petitioners explain.

They also say the attacks on the minorities has grown sharply in recent years since this law was used as a weapon targeting the dignity of Christians and Muslims particularly belonging to Adivasis, Dalits and women.

The petition urged people to join the campaign to defend the values enshrined in the Indian Constitution and protect human rights of the minorities and other marginalized sections in India.

The petition was initiated by the National Solidarity Forum, a network of groups and individuals who started acting in response to the Kandhamal Genocide on the Adivasi and Dalit Christians during 2007 and 2008. Kandhamal is a district in the eastern Indian state of Odisha.

The petition also noted scattered and sporadic sub-radar attacks on Christian communities in India in the past few years. “Pretext made is that Christian missionaries are converting by force, fraud, coercion or allurement.”

Citing the Indian census, the petition points out that Christian population declined from 2.6 percent in 1971 to 2.3 percent in 2011. “These Anti- Conversion Laws, generally called freedom of religion laws, are attempts to intimidate the Christian Community and the planned law in Karnataka is on the same lines,’ says Ram Puniyani, the forum convener.

Supporting the petition, Margaret Alva, a former governor of Goa, Gujarat and Uttarakhand, commended the National Solidarity Forum’s attempts to collect signatures from all religions and backgrounds to dissuade the government from passing the Karnataka anti-conversion bill. “I request you to sign this appeal to withdraw the anti-Christian bill and such laws in other states of the country,” she urged people.

John Dayal, senior journalist, human rights activist and a forum founder, says the anti-conversion laws do not affect the Christians alone, but “meant for further persecution on the Muslims, Dalits, Adivasis and women.” These laws violate the basic tenets of the Indian Constitution and India’s secular heritage, he asserts.

Vidya Dinkar, human rights activist and a core team member of the forum, says the anti-conversion law disrespects women and places restrictions for a woman to choose her partner. “It is conceived with a notion that women in India are not in a position to think on their own and act on their own. This law is highly patriarchal. It is not acceptable,” she added.

Another woman activist, Brinelle D’Souza, Centre for Health and Mental Health, School of Social Work, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, says the anti-conversion law “discriminates against certain religions. It is a violation of the principle enshrined in the Indian Constitution that all religions are equal. It is meant to strengthen religious conflicts and majoritarian nationalism in India. Moreover, it infantilizes the poor and gives the State power over matters that are deeply personal.”

The forum leaders say thousands of people have already responded to the petition and more endorsements are pouring in.

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