This is very good news for Indian religious minorities. The Indian Supreme Court rejected, Friday, April 9, an amendment tabled by the BJP, the nationalist party in power, which planned to generalize federal laws limiting conversions to religions other than Hinduism, the majority in India.
The highest court of the Federal Republic considered that the Basic Law (the equivalent of the Constitution, editor’s note), guarantees all Indian citizens the freedom to profess, practice and propagate their worship. “There is a reason the word ‘propagate’ is written in the Constitution”, said the judge.
Laws that hinder religious freedoms
In eight states of India, laws sanction conversions from Hinduism to other religions. The Muslim and Christian religions are particularly targeted by these local laws. If the latter have the formal objective of outlawing conversions by force, its detractors denounce a desire to restrict the freedom of worship of minorities. For Indian Christians, these regulations notably hinder the work of missionaries.
According to Father Babu Joseph Karakombil, former spokesperson for the Indian Bishops’ Conference (CBCI), this judgment is coming “At the right time, as pros Hindu groups demand national law banning conversions, accusing Christian missionaries of using fraudulent means to convert poor Dalits (the “untouchables”, Editor’s note) and tribal “, he told the Asian and Christian news agency, Ucanews. Violence has also increased in recent years against Christians and Muslims.
Sentences of up to ten years’ imprisonment
On February 24, Uttar Pradesh, the country’s most populous state, tightened its law banning religious conversions, which now include a change of religion following marriage. If such a conversion is to take place, it must since be notified to the local administration. Otherwise, the marriage is declared “Null and void” and offenders face penalties of up to ten years in prison.
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“Such laws go against the spirit of the Indian Constitution which guarantees to any citizen the possibility of professing, proclaiming and preaching freely any religion of his choice according to his conscience”, then declared to the Asian Catholic agency Ucanews Mgr Joseph Pamplany, auxiliary bishop of Tellichéry, and president of the Commission for the Doctrine of the CBCI.
Hindus are the majority in India, where they represent 80% of the population. Muslim and Christian minorities represent respectively 14% and 2.3% of the population in a country of 1.3 billion inhabitants.