Gujarat passes new Anti-Conversion

Times of India, Sept 19, 2006

GADHINAGAR, India -- Amid vociferous protests from the opposition Congress, a bill to amend Gujarat's Anti-Conversion Act was on Tuesday passed in the state Legislative Assembly here by a voice vote.

The Anti-Conversion Act was originally passed in 2003 by the state Assembly, but was not implemented so far in the state as the government could not frame rules.

The anti-conversion act passed earlier did not have clarity on what forced conversion means and to whom should it apply, state government officials said adding that The Gujarat Freedom of Religion (amendment) Bill 2006 was brought on Tuesday to have clarity on the Act.

Under the amendment Bill, a person need not seek permission to convert in case of conversion from one sect to another of the same religion.

The amendment says "to convert means to make one person renounce one religion and adopt another; but does not include one who renounces one denomination and adopt another denomination of the same religion".

This implies that there would be no government intervention in case of conversion from Shia to Sunni or Protestant to Catholic.

More significantly, the same yardsticks will apply to conversions between faiths of Hindusim, Buddhism and Jainsim as the government considers these religions as a whole.

The opposition protested over amendment bill considering Buddhism and Jainsim as part of Hinduism.

Opposition leader Arjun Modhvaida contended in the House that as per Article 25 of the Constitution, the government cannot club Jains and Buddhists with the Hinuds.

He further said that as per Supreme Court orders given earlier, under the Indian Minority Community Act and National Commission for Minority Act Jainism and Buddhism are independent religions.

Modhvadia said they are not sub-branches of Hinduism and accused the government of trying to play politics on the issue by re-defining the concept of conversion.

He alleged that whenever elections were due, the government came up with such bills. Before the Lok Sabha elections (2004) the government brought the anti-conversion bill (Gujarat Freedom of Religion act 2003) but even after three years, no rules have been framed by the government.

"Now the BJP government is targetting 2007 assembly elections," he added.

Law Minister Ashok Bhatt, in reply to remarks of leader of opposition, said the Article 25 of the Constitution clearly states that both the Jains and Buddhists were part of Hindu religion.

Minister of state for Home Amit Shah accused Congress of creating division within the Hindu society by trying to separate these religions from the Hindu-fold.

Lot of noisy scenes were created by MLAs on both sides prompting the Speaker Mangaldas Patel to warn them to behave.