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Anti-conversion laws 'undermine' rights of Dalits, Adivasis, women: Petition to President

Counterview Desk 

A petition -- floated for wider support in the context of the anti-conversion Bill scheduled to be tabled in Karnataka Upper House on February 14, 2022 -- by prominent citizens, has insisted that all anti-conversion laws in India should be repealed. 
Addressed to the President of India, its initial signatories include Admiral L Ramdas ( former Chief of Naval Staff of the Indian Navy), Mallika Sarabhai (danceuse), Medha Patkar (Narmada Bachao Andolan leader), Anand Patwardhan (film maker), and Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd (writer, academic).
While stating that that a new anti-conversion law is not necessary since the Indian Constitution has enough provisions for the same, the signatories say: "Wherever the law, ironically officially called Freedom of Religion Act, was passed, it became a justification for the persecution of the minorities and other marginalized identities."
They add, "The attacks on the minorities grew sharply in recent years since this law was used as a weapon targeting the dignity of Christians and Muslims particularly belonging to Adivais, Dalits and women."
Initiated by the National Solidarity Forum (NSF), a network of groups and individuals who started acting in response to the Kandhamal Genocide on the Adivasi Christians and Dalit Christians in 2007-08, Prof Ram Punyani, NSF convenor, explains the reason for the petition, "Pretext made is that Christian missionaries are converting by force, fraud, coercion or allurement. Population census shows a small decline in the percentage of Christians from 2.6 percent in 1971 to 2.3 percent in 2011."
Co-convenor Ajay Kumar Singh said, "A Dalit converted to Christianity or Islam loses the reservation and protection from the state", adding, "The Dalit does not lose any reservation and protection if he or she converts to Sikhism, Jainism or Buddhism. It is a reality that the discriminatory Dalit identity does not change no matter which religion one belongs to."
Said Vidya Dinkar, human rights activist and a core NSF team member, "The law disrespects women, and places restrictions for a woman to choose her partner. It is conceived with a notion that women in India are not in a position to think on their own and act on their own. This law is highly patriarchal. It is not acceptable."
Dr John Dayal, senior journalist, human rights activist and an NSF founder member, said, "The Anti-Conversion Laws are not just affecting the Christians alone, they are meant for further persecution on the Muslims, Dalits, Adivasis and women also in this country. They violate the basic tenets of the Indian Constitution and India’s secular heritage."
Asserted Brinnele D’Souza, Centre for Health and Mental Health, School of Social Work, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, "This law discriminates against certain religions. It is a violation of the principle enshrined in the Indian Constitution that all religions are equal. It is meant to strengthen religious conflicts and majoritarian nationalism in India. Moreover, its infantalizes the poor and gives the State power over matters that are deeply personal."

Petition text:

We, the citizens of secular and democratic India, are shocked to witness the moves of the state governments ruled by the BJP and other political parties, targeting Christians, Muslims, Dalits, Adivasis and Hindu women using Anti-Conversion Laws in India.
Hindutva elements in various parties, and specially those evolving from the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh and the Hindu Mahasabha, successfully lobbied hard to enact the first Anti-Conversion Law in Odisha in 1967, followed by nine other states in India. These include Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, and Arunachal Pradesh. In Tamil Nadu, the then All India Anna DMK party, Ms J. Jayalalitha enacted such a law, but withdrew it following a strong protest in the state.
Wherever the Anti-Conversion law, ironically officially called Freedom of Religion Act, was passed, it became a justification for the persecution of the minorities and other marginalized identities. The attacks on the minorities grew sharply in recent years since this law was tweaked and used as a weapon targeting the dignity of Christians and Muslims.
The latest debate on Anti-conversion Law is in the state of Karnataka today, where resistance is building up to ensure that the Bill passed in the Legislative Assembly, does not become law.
For the Hindutva forces, the Anti-Conversion Law as a path towards establishing a Hindu Rashtra in India which would disenfranchise Muslims and Christians, converting the democratic secular republic into a theocratic and xenophobic state.

Impact on Dalits, Adivasis and Women

It is not just Muslims and Christians, the primary targets, this law has existential implications for Dalits, Adivasis, and some sections of the Hindu community. It also targets women’s sexual and social freedom. Any Dalit who chooses to convert to Christianity or Islam constitutional provisions of reservations in government employment, as also in educational institutions. More critically, she or he loses the protection under the Anti-untouchability laws. Current laws all accept conversions to Sikhism, Buddhism or Jainism, as legitimate and with continuing benefits of reservations which they had under the Hindu faith.
Anyone who does choose to join a new religion is now required to prove that he or she was not converted by force, or coercion, inducement or allurement.
These laws are far more draconian than they look at first sight. They target Christianity and Islam They encourage a return to Hinduism. But at the grassroots, they put coercive pressure on Dalits and Adivasis to not profess Christianity or Islam. Coercion and blackmail are implicit in the notorious Article 341 Part 3, which is immediately evoked to take away their rights of reservation and protection. In effect, a Dalit forced by the State to remain in Hinduism.
For Islam and Christianity, it means that while they can personally profess their religion, they no longer have the right to propagate their faith. This goes against Article 25 in the Constitution of India which says people have the “Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion”. Not only does it discriminate against the Christian and Islamic religions, it undermines the secular foundations of the Constitution which treats all religions equally.
Since 2019, this notorious law has also targeted women, taking away their agency in the most personal of issues of their sexuality, and criminalising their choice of a Muslim or Christian as a life partner. Women now require government approval to marry a Muslim or a Christian. The woman risk physical harm and social disgrace as even distant relatives can move the law against an intended inter-faith marriage. The man she chose will be arrested for a non-bailable offence.
In Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, the law is being used to prevent interfaith couples from getting married. Hindutva forces are using this law to target the Muslims, rousing communal and sectarian passions against what politician have called `Love Jihad.’

Is anti-conversion law necessary?

It needs to be underscored that such laws were created as political expediency and for appeasing majority vote banks during elections. Till recent months when it was used in several states against Muslim men, the law was used just for harassing Christian pastors and teachers or principals of academic institutions. Arrests were few and far between. State government has not been able to adduce any data or evidence to justify the laws.
The core, and patronising, argument that underpins all such laws is that the Dalit or the poor has no agency and no understanding, in matters of religion. In all other matters including the right to vote and choose his political representatives to local governments and to Parliament, he or she is deemed to be of sound mind and judgement. This is highly insulting to the intellect and wisdom of India’s Dalits and its poor who have been kept suppressed by social force under the caste system and implemented by threats of force or threat of punishment.
The Indian Penal Code has all too many provisions to address crimes of cheating, bribing and issues such as attempts to disrupt harmony between communities, or creating ill-will among various sections of society.

Anti-conversion law: A violation of Indian Constitution

Top jurists of the country have held this law to be totally in violation of the right to profess, practice and propagate one’s faith. Babasaheb Ambedkar, who chaired the Drafting Committee of the Constitution in the Constituent Assembly, and several subcommittees which discussed issues of the rights of citizens, discussed these issues threadbare before putting them in the statutes.
The Indian Constitution provides six broader fundamental rights. Everyone is equal and has equal rights and freedom without discrimination before the law (Art 14-18) & (Art 19-22). The State provides freedom of conscience and right to profess, practice and propagate religion (Art 25-28) as well as cultural & educational rights for the religious minorities (Art 29-30). It is right to equality, freedom, and non-discrimination for every citizen.
The anti-conversion laws violate international covenants and instruments where India is a signatory. Articles 1, 18 & 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Articles 18 &19 of International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Articles 2 & 3 of UN Declaration on Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief spell this out clearly and categorically.
For the people of India, the anti-conversion laws discriminate against Christianity and Islam against all other religions, creating an environment of exclusion, hospitality and encouraging targeted hate and physical violence against persons and institutions.
We, from the National Solidarity Forum, are convinced that such discriminatory laws should have no space in a democratic society like India. We realize the need for larger involvement of all secular and democratic people to support the campaign for the withdrawal of such laws. And, therefore, we appeal to all those who respect human rights, dignity, peace, harmony, and justice to endorse this statement against the Anti-Conversion Laws in India.
Together, let us join hands to defend the values enshrined in the Indian Constitution and protection of human rights of the minorities and other marginalized sections in India.

Comments

bernard kohn said…
As an admirer of the secular and democratic India
I fully support the urgent need to fight against all the current discriminatory attempts to curb the social freedom of minority groups...., Dalits, women.... Chritians.....

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