Christians Receive Reprieve as India Governor Turns Down Anti-Conversion Bill

Jaipur, INDIA - Christians in Rajasthan, always under fear of religious persecution, can heave a sigh of relief as Rajasthan's Governor Ms. Pratibha Patil has turned down the "draconic" Religious Freedom Bill, which was hurriedly passed by the Rajasthan State Legislative Assembly.

|PIC1|Under the Bill, any person caught trying to convert people could face between two to five years imprisonment and a fine of Rs. 50,000 (£600).

While Christians felt the Bill was aimed at targeting the minority communities in Rajasthan, human rights watchdogs said that the Bill was meant to appease Hindu hardliners.

"It is against the Indian Constitution and curtails a person's freedom. We feel that it will be misused against us," said Bishop of Jaipur Oswald Lewis, welcoming the Governor's decision.

According to a source close to the development, the Governor had refused to sign the legislation saying that certain provisions in the bill directly or indirectly affected a citizen's fundamental right of religion.

The state assembly passed the bill last month, amidst protests raised by Christian and human rights advocacy groups.

According to news reports, members of the BJP-led Government in Rajasthan have not taken the Governor's decision kindly.

Rajasthan's law minister, Ghanshyam Tiwari, said, "It was the constitutional obligation of the governor to sign the bill that was passed by the legislative assembly."

Some Hindu hardliner groups like Vishwa Hindu Parishad have also criticised Ms. Patil's decision, with its state chief Jugal Kishore saying sending back the bill unsigned was an insult to democracy.

Ever since the legislation was introduced in the State Assembly, critics had called upon Ms. Pratibha Patil to protect the rights of religious minorities such as Christians, Muslims and lower-caste Hindus.

|TOP|"We are happy that the Governor took a bold step," said Joseph D'souza, president of the Christian advocacy group, the All India Christian Council (AICC).

"There is no need for such a law in Rajasthan as there are no forceful conversion activities taking place here," said Rajasthan Christian Fellowship's Father Coelho.

Jamat-e Islami Rajasthan's chief, Salim Engineer, also said the law was designed to harass religious minorities.

CBCI secretary general, Archbishop Stanislaus Fernandes has welcomed the action as "it was against human rights and the citizen's rights enshrined in the Indian Constitution."

According to founder and president of Gospel for Asia, K.P. Yohannan, "There was tremendous pressure from the church and other religious groups like Islam and other groups."

"I would be surprised if they're stalling it. But, this is one state where we have had a large amounts or problems of persecution in the last one year," he said.

|AD|According to Yohannan, the problem was not over yet as the Rajasthan's state government plans to re-send the legislation with some changes.

Prayer is the only answer, he said, noting that state-organised harassment has been the main problem in the region.

"This (is) totally against the constitution of the country. Those who have come to Christ they want to know how much money was paid to them, and then stirring up local anti-Christian groups to beat up our missionaries. So, this has been a very difficult year in Rajasthan," he said.

However, despite the trials, God is working, felt Yohannan: "In spite of this increased persecution more people have turned to the Lord in that state and this is something only God can do."

"I am absolutely convinced we need to pray much more around the world - for situations like this. Not just two seconds of prayer, but intercession significantly needed to see God intervene in this kind of situation because this is nothing other than absolute satanic forces fight against the Kingdom's work in the last days," the GFA leader said.

[Editor's Note: Jacob Chatterjee reported from New Delhi, India for this article]

Jacob Chatterjee
Christian Today Correspondent