The Government of Gujarat continues to misuse religion, by trying to manipulate people through religion, for narrow political gains.
The recent Gujarat Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill 2006 which was passed by the Gujarat Assembly on September 19th 2006, is a clear example of how this Government continues to trample on the rights of the citizens through unconstitutional, draconian and anti-people acts.
This Bill was originally passed in March 2003 but the Government did not have the courage to frame the mandatory rules for the implementation of the law. The Act in itself, besides being anti-people, is highly discriminatory and could give rise to very serious misinterpretations.
The recent amendments in the Bill are very mischievous and divisive. Buddhism and Jainism are regarded as denominations of Hinduism. It looks as though, those who have framed the law have not understood that there are fundamental differences in the basic tenets of each of these religions, unless it is an attempt to merely co-opt others as part of a political strategy.
The clause permitting Christians and Protestants, and then again, Shias and Sunnis to convert from one to another and vice-versa, is ridiculous. Since Christianity or Islam are the religions concerned, the question of conversion does not arise. Hence the thinking of the Government is seriously flawed unless there is a sinister agenda to create suspicion and therefore division among the denominations of particular religions.
The Gujarat Government is only proving to the world that it is not interested in responding to the fundamental needs and aspirations of the people of Gujarat which are essentially food, clothing and shelter; access to clean drinking water, to primary health-care and quality primary education. The Government could do well to provide rehabilitation to the thousands of people who have been affected by the recent disasters caused by man-made floods and the widespread epidemics that is taking a severe toll all across the State. Gujarat still craves for justice after the carnage of 2002.
The Government MUST WITHDRAW this draconian Freedom of Religion Bill immediately and unconditionally.
Fr. Cedric Prakash sj
20th September 2006