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Debate on conversion law back to the fore

Debate on conversion law back to the fore

Author: Soumyajit Pattnaik
Publication: The Times of India
Date: November 30, 2001

Bhubaneswar, November 29: Several instances of religious conversions, which are in violation of Orissa Freedom of Religion Act (OFRA), have been reported in the state in the last few months. Reports of conversions were previously confined to the tribal dominated districts in the state. But the problem is now spreading to coastal Orissa after the super cyclone and the floods. Along with Sundargarh, Koraput, Gajapati, Keonjhar, Mayurbhanj districts, reports of conversions and OFRA violations have now being reported from Jagatsinghpur, Kebdrapara, Jajpur and Puri districts.

And the debate rages. Should an individual be allowed to change his religion by observing certain laws enacted by the state government or can he/she do so on his own volition where the state should not meddle at all?

Leaders belonging to the Sangh Parivar believe that the missionaries are carrying out religious conversion in Orissa through allurements. Gouri Prasad Rath, State secretary of Viswa Hindu Parishad, says there is no change of religion of one's own free will.

Conversion in the state, according to Rath, is taking place mostly in those pockets where people are illiterate and economically vulnerable. "Can you cite instances where educated and economically well-off people are embracing Christianity. They (missionaries) are doing it through misguiding people, allurement, and even through threats," Rath asserts. Thus a law like OFRA is not only needed, but its provisions should be made more stringent, Rath says.

Rt. Rev Ruben Senapati, Bishop of Diocese of Cuttack, Church of North India on the other hand believes that religion is a personal matter and it should be best left to the individuals themselves.

Under OFRA, the collector has to be intimated 15 days in advance before any incident of conversion takes place and if the district administration after conducting an inquiry certifies that the proposed conversion is purely voluntary and free from allurements, then it can take place.

Binay Kumar Muduli, president of Bhubaneswar Christian Association, however feels the provision of inquiry by a police official is not a fair provision.

Orissa, A Communal Tinderbox

January 1999: Australian missionary Graham Stewart Staines and his two sons are brutally killed at Manoharpur in Keonjhar district.

July 1999: Father Arul Doss was murdered in Jamabani village.

Mid-2000: Shankaracharya of Gobardhanpeeth, Puri, visits Manoharpur to re-convert nearly 80 Christians into the Hindu fold, which was criticised severely by Christian leaders.

July 2001: 19 people in Korua village in Kendrapara district embrace Christianity and later were forced to be back into the Hindu fold again.

August 2001: Two members of the Missionaries of Charity attacked in Kandhamal district.

November 2001: Six persons belonging to scheduled caste community at Chapalli village in Kendrapara district embrace Christianity violating law and cases lodged.

November 18, 2001: A Christian youth was murdered at Sikabeda village in Keonjhar district.

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