India's government advocates anti-proselytization law

Controversial legislation proposed amid forced-conversion scandal
India’s pro-Hindu ruling party on Friday called for laws banning religious conversion several days after 200 Muslims in Agra were reportedly forced to convert.

Debate erupted over the reports in the Lower House of parliament on Thursday with Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu, a member of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP, Indian People’s Party), saying “let there be anti-conversion laws in all the states”.

“Let us all seriously work towards the progress of the country,” he said.

Already, anti-conversion laws are in force in the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Himachal Pradesh.

The issue of religious conversions was raised in the Indian parliament after 200 Muslims were allegedly forcibly converted to Hinduism earlier this week in Agra, in Uttar Pradesh by the pro-Hindu Bajrang Dal, an offshoot of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS, or national volunteer corps).

Bajrang Dal and RSS officials termed the event a “home coming” for the converts and defended their actions.

Debate raged after opposition member Jyotiraditya Scinda raised the incident to seek a clarification from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and warned it was a ploy to “polarize” the nation.

Denying that, the minister lauded the RSS, calling it a “great organization” before proposing the controversial law.

The Christian community lashed out in response, saying such legislation would be a violation of human rights.

Father Z Devasagayaraj, secretary of the office for Scheduled Class/Backward Class and tribal affairs of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, said an anti-conversion law in the country would restrict the rights of those who want to escape oppression from their religion.

“Even Hindus who want freedom from caste oppression and untouchability will be restricted to follow the religion,” he told on Friday.

The priest said that more than the religion itself, the freedom of the individual’s rights must be respected.

John Dayal, a member of the National Integration Council, told that Parliamentary Affairs Minister Naidu's response clearly highlights the connection between the government and RSS, which is fomenting forced conversions in several parts of the country.

Dayal added that the country does not need an anti-conversion law.

Instead, he said: “We need a law to prevent communal and targeted violence against religious minorities and others.”

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