threat to Gujarat conversion law
15 April, 2003
one of its election promises, the Narendra Modi government has passed
the controversial Gujarat Freedom of Religion Bill 2003 that was ratified
recently by Governor S.S. Bhandari.
ruling BJP should be happy that Bhandari, who took nearly two weeks
to study the Bill and kept the party guessing about its fate, has signed
the Bill without recommending a single change.
But that is
hardly the mood in the BJP camp. The reason: a Dalit organisation is
threatening mass conversion as a mark of protest.
The state government,
which had hurriedly passed the Bill that sought a ban on forced conversions,
now faces the real challenge with the Dalits threatening to embrace
Buddhism. They claim that conversion is their fundamental right.
Sangarsh Manch, an organisation that has been fighting for the rights
of Dalits, had described the Bill as a conspiracy to perpetuate
of the Manch, Valjibhai Patel, the most vocal opponent of the anti-conversion
law, intends to provoke the government to take action against them by
organising the mass conversion.
of this law are stricter than those of the anti-conversion Act passed
in Tamil Naidu.
The Tamil Nadu
law requires just the person conducting the ceremony to inform district
officials about the conversion.
But in Gujarat,
anyone willing to convert is required to seek prior permission from
the district collector who will decide whether permission can be granted.
bent on defiance, plan to send thousands of telegrams to the chief minister
and district officials to inform them about their intention to convert.
We will not seek their permission to embrace Buddhism. We will
just inform them. We will tell them that they are free to take whatever
action they want to take, Patel said.
delegation from the state and the National Commission for Minorities
had also objected to the provision that made it mandatory for conversions
to be approved by the district collector.
The Manch, a
voluntary organisation, has decided to challenge the law in the high
court once the rules are framed and published in the state gazette.
The government is in the process of framing the rules.
just waiting for the rules to be framed. Once the process is over, we
will work out our strategy to challenge the law by whatever means we
can, Patel said, asserting that conversion was a fundamental right.
The Dalit leader
said the proposed mass conversion would not be a political stunt
but a well thought-out strategy to get rid of the oppressive Hindu
He said the
Hindu religion had deprived the Dalits of their basic rights and now,
by making anti-conversion laws, the government wants to ensure that
they do not get out of the oppressive and hierarchical caste system.
7.5 per cent of Gujarats population. The state, according to the
National Crime Record Bureau, ranks third in terms of atrocities committed
against backward classes.