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Indian agency to study laws that ban conversion from Hinduism


India’s National Commission for Minorities has set up a committee to study the constitutional validity of highly politicised anti-conversion laws that churches and others say infringe freedom of conscience.

"Freedom of religion is a fundamental right and the State cannot put curbs on exercising this freedom," Mohamed Shafi Qureshi, the commission’s chairperson told Ecumenical News International in early April, following the commission’s announcement it was setting up the committee.

Six states in India in recent years have enacted anti-conversion laws banning conversions by "force, fraud or inducement", in some instances because majority Hindus accuse Christians of proselytising.

Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, states ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party, whose opponents say it has a Hindu nationalist agenda, have made it obligatory for people to seek prior government permission to change their faith. Conversion back to Hinduism, however, has been exempted from this provision.

"Prior permission for changing the religion is denial of the fundamental right of freedom of religion and conscience, said Qureshi. He said the commission’s panel will also study "whether there is any need at all" for such laws as there are "enough provisions in the constitution to deal with questionable conversions".

Joseph D’Souza, president of the All India Christian Council welcomed the move by the commission, an autonomous body constituted by the government of India. He said there had been a "strong Hindu nationalist political motive" behind the enactment of the anti-conversion laws.

The Christian council, in October 2006, organized mass public conversions and burnt copies of the anti-conversions laws to highlight the denial of freedom of religion with the enactment of these laws.

In recent years, a promise to enact anti-conversion laws has often featured in election manifestos of the BJP for state polls, which sometimes portray Christians and Muslims as being out to convert "Hindu India".

(c) Ecumenical News International