India’s minority panel to examine anti-conversion laws

March 28th, 2008 - 11:33 am ICT by admin  


By Rajeev Ranjan Roy
New Delhi, March 28 (IANS) The National Commission for Minorities (NCM) will be setting up a committee to examine if anti-conversion laws in India throttle people’s freedom to practise any faith, says panel chief Mohammad Shafi Qureshi. “Several states have enacted legislations to regulate conversion from one religion to another and maintain public order. It is high time to examine if the provisions of state legislations violate the constitution that guarantees freedom of religion,” Qureshi told IANS.

“A committee will be set up to look into different aspects of conversion laws and suggest remedial measures to remove irritants, if any, for communal peace and harmony. People’s constitutional rights need to be protected,” said Qureshi, a former governor and union minister.

Several states, including Orissa, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Arunachal Pradesh have enacted legislation to check religious conversion through “fraud, force and inducement” or any other such means.

“Nobody can support religious conversion through coercion. The law of land must prevail if anyone is found guilty of effecting conversion through coercive measures. At the same time, it must also be ensured that the people’s absolute right to practise and preach any religion is preserved,” Qureshi said.

He said the panel would formalise the blueprint for the new committee in the next meeting of the commission.

“It is one of the priority concerns of the commission, and will set up the committee as soon as possible,” Qureshi added.

There are many takers for preserving the constitutional right to freedom of religion.

Said J. Kuldip Singh, senior vice president of the Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Management Committee: “The people should be allowed to practise the religion of their choice and no organisation should be permitted into acts of religious conversion and re-conversion through coercion or inducements. Such things disturb communal peace and harmony.”

Chairperson of city-based Friends For Education Firoz Bakht Ahmed added: “We do not need any anti-conversion laws. Indians are mature to take decisions like which religion they should practise. Yet many states have enacted legislation on conversion.

“There is a need to see that such laws do not subvert the people’s constitutional right to practise a religion of their choice.”

The National Commission of Minorities Act 1992 puts those practising Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Zoroastrianism as minority communities.

The conversion controversy has always veered around “tribals and others”. They are found to be more vulnerable to conversions effected through “inducements” or other such means.

On March 17, the NCM had called a closed-door meeting of minority MPs here to discuss “the state laws on conversion and their impact on the right to freedom of religion”.

Participants at the meeting expressed the need to look into anti-conversion laws and other issues confronting minorities.

According to the 2001 Census, minorities account for 18.4 percent of the country’s total population.

Muslims constitute 13.4 percent, Christians 2.3 percent , Sikhs 1.9 percent, Buddhists 0.8 percent and Parsis (Zoroastrians) 0.07 percent. Muslims constitute 72.8 percent of the country’s total minority population of 189.5 million.

(Rajeev Ranjan Roy can be contacted at rajeev.r@ians.in)

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