The decision by the Gujarat Governor, Shri Nawal Kishore Sharma, to return "The Gujarat Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill 2006", is welcomed.
The Bill is violative of the Constitutional Rights of a citizen and is very divisive in nature.
On the one hand, the Bill in a highly manipulative way, gives a "blanket" permission for a Catholic to become a Protestant and vice versa, and a Shia to become a Sunni and vice versa, without understanding the significance of these denominations within their respective faiths, or if actually changing to another denomination could be regarded as "conversion"; on the other hand, regarding Jains and Buddhists as denominations of the Hindu Religion, has brought much flak from the followers of Jainism and Buddhism.
The point to note is that, the Bill in its original form, was passed on March 26, 2003. The questions the Gujarat Government needs to answer are :
→ why did they take more than three years to usher in an amendment ?
→ why did they not frame the bye-laws to ensure implementation of the law from March 26, 2003 onwards ?
→ are they able to produce a single instance of "forced" conversion in Gujarat since the past many years ?
→ what is the breakup of the population of Gujarat, according to the last Census 2001 ?
→ By what percentage have the Minority Religions increased / decreased ?
The Government of Gujarat is fully aware that such a draconian law will not pass legal scrutiny. They have to stop indulging in cheap political gimmicks and lies like raising the bogey of "conversions", which is clearly a diversionary tactic, from the real issues that plague the poor and marginalized of Gujarat today.
Article 25 of the Constitution and Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, guarantee every single individual, the right to preach, propagate and practice one's religion and to choose the religion of one's choice / conscience.
The Gujarat Government has no alternative but to withdraw this unconstitutional law immediately.
Fr. Cedric Prakash sj
1st August 2007