Gujarat withdraws anti-conversion bill

March 11th, 2008 - 12:27 am ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Narendra Modi

Gandhinagar, March 10 (IANS) The Narendra Modi government Monday withdrew the controversial Gujarat Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2006, after vociferous protests from Jains, human rights groups and Governor Nawal Kishore Sharma returning it for reconsideration. The state government passed the bill Sep 19, 2006 and sent a draft to the governor.

The bill classified Jainism and Buddhism as sects of Hinduism and Roman Catholics and Protestants as sects of Christianity. Anybody who wanted to convert would have to take the permission of an official of the rank of district collector, according to the bill.

However, Governor Sharma returned it saying the controversial legislation violated the right to religious freedom.

The bill, meant to check religious conversions, sought to replace the definition of conversion by a new one under which a person renouncing one denomination and adopting another of the same religion would be excluded from the meaning of conversion.

While returning the legislation, Sharma said: “What made it more objectionable were three explanations stipulating that the Jains and Buddhists shall be construed as denominations of Hindu religion, Shia and Sunni of Muslim religion and Catholic and Protestant of Christian religion.”

“The provisions of amendment bill violated Article 25 of the constitution, which guarantees to all citizens to freely profess, practice and propagate any religion. The bill should be reconsidered for suitable amendments so as to bring its contents in conformity with the constitution,” said the governor.

Gujarat has a Jain population of around 550,000. It is the third largest Jain populated state after Maharashtra, which is the first with 1.3 million, followed by Rajasthan with 650,493, as per the 2001 census.

The total population of the Jain religious community in India is 4.22 million. Though less in numbers, Jains are scattered in 34 out of 35 states and union territories.

“The proposed amendment would amount to withdrawing the protection against forceful or inappropriate religious conversions, particularly in case of Jains and Buddhists,” said Governor Sharma.

He also cited large-scale protests from different religious and social organisations, especially from the Jain and Christian communities in indicating toward the unacceptability of the proposed amendment.

Human rights groups vehemently opposed the bill saying it would flare up communal tension. Delegations that met the governor following the passage of the bill in 2006, took particular objection to the inclusion of Jainism as a “sect” of Hinduism.

The change attracted widespread protests with the All India Digambar Jain Dharam Sanrakshini Sabha launching widespread protests against the amalgamation of their religion into the Hindu fold.

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