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Orissa govt asks churches to submit conversion data

Orissa govt asks churches to submit conversion data

Imran Khan
The Observer of Business And Politics
March 20, 2000
Title: Orissa govt asks churches to submit conversion data
Author: Imran Khan
Publication: The Observer of Business And Politics
Date: March 20, 2000

ORISSA Christians are up in arms against the latest state government circular to churches in the state, which makes it mandatory on them to furnish five year's data on conversions.

Describing it as another conspiracy to make a direct interference on their religious rights, the Christian leaders made it clear that they would not tolerate this, which went against the basic character of the secular constitution of the country.

Interestingly, the controversial circular was sent to the churches in the state during the last days of the Congress government in the state. Even the earlier notification, which was sent last year, also had enraged the Christian community.

They hinted about approaching he President in this regard and id not rule out the possibility of knocking at the doors of the apex court also in this regard.

"As a pastor, I feel that it is a violation of the freedom of religion and human rights," Rev Samson Das of the English Baptist Church, Cuttack, said, while another Rev Pradeep Kumar Das of the Church of God, Cuttack, said that conversion as per the Christian view was a matter of change of heart. "How we can report about somebody's conversion?" he asked and added that it was once again an interference on our religious matters.

"We are not liable to report to the state government about somebody's conversion," he said. it is not that he was alone to protest against the government circular in regard to the conversion. Christians all over the state have echoed similar views in this regard.

The church Fathers of Bhubaneswar to the pastors in tribal-dominated Gajpati district in southern Orissa to the secretary at the Bishop's House, Balasore, felt that it was nothing but a move to target Christians in the state. "It is a deliberate step on the part of the state administration to harass churches in the state," said an official of the Ganjam Pastor Union in Berhampur, southern Orissa.

It may be recalled here that the reported decision of the Orissa government, which asked the churches to provide it with five-year data on conversions led to several Christian organisations to term it as a totally unconstitutional step. The national convenor of the United Christian Forum for Human Rights, John Dayal, in his letter to the President and the NHRC said that the community had consistently denounced the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act as being both discriminatory against the community and violative of the fundamental rights of an Indian citizen to choose his/her faith. After remaining dormant for several years, the rules under the Act were arbitarily changed for the worse.

In view of the fact that Orissa Christian leaders are seeing another conspiracy against the community by the state administration in its new demand, Indian Evangelical Mission's Sushil Nayak said, "They do not have any right to ask for this kind of details."

He further wondered why they had asked for the conversions data for the last five years and said, "This is very clearly, part against of a conspiracy Christians." "We are not going to supply the data. No data at all or figures or facts," he said.

Secretary at Bishop's House, Balasore, Fr Issac Puthenangady, who received the notification of district authorities, in his letter dated February 29, 2000, to editors of local newspapers expressed his unhappiness over the Orissa government order, preventing conversions without the prior permission from the local police and district magistrate.

In his reference to the earlier one page notification dated 26.11.1999 sent to churches across the state, he said that an individual wishing to convert would have to face an inquiry from the police as to why he or she wanted to change the religion.

"The surprising point, in this notification is that the said order has been issued to only the churches and not to any other religious heads. This is quite evident enough of their malafide intentions," he said.

The notification hinted that in the exercise of the powers confirmed on it by the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act, the state government made the rules to amend the Freedom of Religion rules, 1989.

"This amendment is a tactical move to discourage anyone from converting to Christianity," he pointed out and said anyone who violated this procedure should be punishable with imprisonment which might extent to one year or call for a fine.

But in case of conversion of SC/STs, the punishment shall be imprisonment upto two years and fine upto Rs 10,000.

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