Evangelical Fellowship of India strongly condemns the move by the Gujarat government to implement the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act, 2003.
Under the rules recently framed, any person wanting to convert to another religion in Gujarat will have to intimate the state government on their reasons for conversion, period of following the prior religion. Failing this, they will be declared offenders and prosecuted under criminal laws, according to the law which came into effect from April 1, 2008.
The law makes it obligatory for a priest seeking to convert someone to take district magistrate’s permission to avoid police action a month prior to any ritual conducted. The priest will have to sign a detailed form providing personal information on the person whom he wishes to convert, whether the one sought to be converted is a minor, a scheduled caste or tribal, marital status, occupation and monthly income. Forced conversion can land the priest behind bars for three years.
The rules state that any conversion ceremony can be conducted only after the District Magistrate grants permission. If the District Magistrate refuses permission, the reasons would have to be communicated to the applicant.
The rule also provide that within 10 days of conversion ceremony taking place additional details such as the address of the place where the conversion is to take place, its date and time, the name and address of the priest, and full personal details of the persons taking part in the conversion ceremony. This provision will undoubtedly lead to further harassment of Christians associated with any conversion ceremony.
Evangelical Fellowship of India urges the Government to repeal the Act and appeals to civil society to join hands to protect and promote the freedom of conscience and the right to freedom of religion as safeguarded under the Constitution of India.
Rev. Dr. Richard Howell,
Evangelical Fellowship of India,
New Delhi, India
Evangelical Fellowship of India (established 1951) is a charter member of World Evangelical Alliance an accredited NGO with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.