Still time for you to help...Stop India's "anti-conversion" laws
UPDATE - 12/3/2015 - India is forced to face rising intolerance...and, still on verge of criminalising religious liberty!
In recent weeks, nearly 200 of India's leading academics, writers, film makers and historians have released a joint statement condemning the "political dispensation" of the Indian Government to acts of violence against cultural and religious minorities.
Specifically, they criticise the "neglible response" of the Government and "silence at times of extreme distress" after MM Kalburgi, a noted scholar and former university vice-chancellor, was murdered after writing against idol worship, and after the lynching of a Muslim man in the town of Dadri (near Delhi) by a mob who suspected that he had consumed beef.
The scathing text of the intellectuals' manifesto went on to say:
"The scant condemnation accorded to these incidents by the government amounts to abstention from constitutional responsibility, and encouragement to greater hostility and aggression, especially against religious and caste minorities. The resolute silence of the political leadership at the Centre [India's Federal Government] puts in question its own complicity in these events.
The very public culture of creative-critical freedom and the right to expression of dissent in the country are rapidly eroding, leaving in their place an order of intolerance and bigotry."
And then, following on from this intervention by the Academics, one of India's biggest film stars, Amir Khan, also voiced his alarm, saying:
"[My wife] Kiran and I have lived all our lives in India. For the first time, she said, 'Should we move out of India?' That’s a disastrous and big statement for Kiran to make to me. She fears for her child. She fears about what the atmosphere around us will be. She feels scared to open the newspapers everyday. That does indicate that there is a sense of growing disquiet..."
Mr Khan is Muslim, while his wife was brought-up as a Hindu.
And, yet, despite this growing criticism of their handling of these sensitive cultural and religious matters, there has been no indication, to-date, that the BJP are pulling back from plans to introduce national "anti-conversion" laws onto the books.
Perhaps their plans have been delayed by the national outcry on intolerance, as described above.
Therefore, we are now calling on the BJP to, not just delay, but decisively scrap plans for the introduction of these "anti-conversion" measures.
For a modern democracy, like India, this is a test. And, one that could be costly in their international relations.
This petition - sent to the Indian Government, the US State Department's Ambassador for Religious Freedom and the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs - asks that the BJP put an immediate stop to this legislative movement. And, it also calls on the US and the EU to entreat the Indian Government to rethink this approach to sectarian issues, using the force of economic sanctions if necessary.
What are "anti-conversion" laws?
"Anti-conversion" laws are aimed at preventing Indian citizens from converting from Hinduism to another religion. And, although "anti-conversion" measures already exist in 6 of India's 29 states, this would be the first time a national or federal law would seek to restrict an individual Indian's religious liberty, which, theoretically, has protection under the Indian Constitution.
One of the BJP's senior leaders, and adviser to India's Prime Minister, Amit Shah, has supported the move, saying: "The government is ready to bring about [an anti-conversion law]. If you feel the state government's law are not effective, there is a need for an all-India law."
And, one of the proponents of the new law, MP Tarun Vijaya, is quoted as saying: "The bill will advocate for a non-bailable warrant to be issued against the person found engaged in the act [of conversion], along with a ten-year jail [sentence]".
So, this could well mean serious jail-time for Christians who simply express their belief in Christ.
And, it is well well-known that the "anti-conversion" measures, already in place on the state-level, are used against Christian and Muslim minorities in those states.
As the US State Department's "International Religious Freedom Report 2014" shows (especially in the "Government Practices" section), "anti-conversion" laws, at the state level, have been used by state and local authorities to harass religious minority populations - usually with trumped-up charges.
A Recent Example.
In September, "anti-conversion" laws were used to arrest and charge two Protestant pastors in the northern Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. Revs. Sunny Oommen and John Alexander, of the Church of North India, were arrested and charged for praying in the home of one of their own congregation!
Coming to their defense, a Catholic Bishop, Bishop Almedia, whose diocese is in the same state, stated: "The law and order situation in the state has almost collapsed as government officials act (in a) biased manner against Christians."
What can we do?
These measures are clearly not in keeping with fundamental human rights and human dignity. And, any BJP attempt to nationalize these bad laws should be firmly rejected.
As above, this petition will be sent to the Indian Government, the US State Department's Ambassador for Religious Freedom, and the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs. We will ask the BJP to reconsider this wrong-headed policy, and, at the same time, ask the US and the EU to intervene both politically and economically. Perhaps the prospect of economic sanctions will make the BJP rethink this unjust plan.
As the legislation has not yet been presented before the Indian Parliament, we still have time to affect the course of events.
Please sign this urgent petition, now!
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Sign this petition now!
Rumoured "Anti-conversion" law is an unjust and anti-democratic approach to sectarian issues