Ahmedabad (Agenzia Fides) – The United Nations Organisation intends to act to guarantee that the human right of ‘freedom of religion’, ratified in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is fully respected in the life of the people of Gujarat and elsewhere in India: this was declared at the end of a two day visit, 23 and 24 February, to the Indian State of Gujarat, by UN Special Rapporteur for freedom of religion or belief, Heiner Bielefeldt. Fides learned from Fr Cedric Prakash SJ, director of the Prashant Human Rights Centre in Gujarat, that the visit served to “lift the veil of silence which was covering massacres committed in the past as well as present day conditions”: in fact the UN Rapporteur was able to meet and interact with numerous members of minority communities, as well as civil society groups, academics, scholars, theologians and journalists.
Bielefeldt listened to testimony and experiences from survivors and witnesses to anti-Muslim massacres in Gujarat in 2002 and to attacks on Christians reported in the years 1998-99 onwards. Reports presented to the UN Rapporteur regarding the present situation dwelt also on a Gujarat state law (“anti-conversion”) passed in 2003, “strangely called ‘Law on Religious Freedom’, one of the most draconian bills in the history of India”, Fr Prakash told Fides. In fact “programmes for religious reconversion launched by fundamentalists and nationalists, fully backed by Gujarat state government, are proof of how minority communities of Gujarat are continually discriminated against and penalised”. The civil society organisations which had talks with the UN Rapporteur, included Christian associations and groups, some of which were started by the Jesuit Fathers, such as the Prashant Centre. (PA) (Agenzia Fides 25/2/2014)