Ranchi (Agenzia Fides) - "Anti-conversion" laws, which in fact are instruments to restrict religious freedom, continue to exacerbate and polarise Indian society: says Jesuit Fr. Michael Kerketta, Indian theologian and professor in Ranchi, capital of the Indian state of Jharkhand, northern India.
Jharkhand recently became the ninth state of India to approve and enforce an "anti-religious conversion" measure when its governor, Draupadi Murmu, signed a bill on September 5, "Freedom of Religion Bill" (paradoxically titled in this way, ndr).
"The measure affects non-Hindu religious communities like Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, and other local communities. It is our duty to denounce an injustice that violates the freedom of conscience and religion and is against the Constitution. This is why on Saturday, September 23, we will gather in a public meeting in Ranchi, as members of various religious communities, including the Hindus, to peacefully demonstrate our dissent", informs the Jesuit.
"The government of Jharkhand is in the hands of the Baratya Janata Party, the Hindu nationalist party that also governs the national executive, with Premier Narendra Modi. Hindu extremist groups in the state of Jharkhand are strong and have ample space in society. In past days anti-Christian demonstrations in Ranchi and violent militants shook the city. Some Christians are in prison for false accusations of having promoted conversions", notes Fr. Kerketta.
The Jesuit recalls and supports the open letter written in past days by Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, Secretary General of the Indian Bishops' Conference (Cbci) to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in which the hatred and hostility campaign towards religious minorities, promoted by the First Minister of Jharkhand, Raghubar Das, and his executive are highlighted. "If it is not immediately brought under control, it could lead the state and its population to a path of violence and hatred", the Bishop warned. The letter recalls that "the Catholic Church strongly opposes forced conversions. But at the same time it affirms its right to preach, practice and spread the faith". Christians, though victims of violence, notes the letter, "will not respond with violence" but will continue to work for the poor and marginalized with "education, medical care and other social activities".
"There is no social or religious violence in Ranchi at the moment, but the social climate remains tense and as a minority community we are worried about the aggression of radical Hindu groups", concludes Fr. Kerketta
Since 2000, an “anti-conversion” legislation has been adopted by six Indian states: in Chhattisgarh in 2000; in Tamil Nadu in 2002 (then repealed in 2004); in Gujarat in 2003; and in Rajasthan in 2006 (not signed by the governor, therefore not in force); in Himachal Pradesh in 2007, Jharkhand in 2017. In the past, the first measures of this kind were adopted in Odisha (or Orissa) in 1967, Madhya Pradesh in 1968 and Arunachal Pradesh in 1978 (but here there are no applicative rules). Currently an anti-conversion law is therefore in force and is enforced in six states out of nine (one has repealed it, in two it is not executive). In Gujarat, a written permit is required before an individual can convert to a new religious faith, while in other cases a "notification" is required to the civil authorities or the judiciary. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 21/9/2017)