Anti-conversion bill gets harsher in Rajasthan

By April 1, 2008

India (MNN) — There's a possibility missionaries in Rajasthan, India could serve jail time if proposed legislation is approved in that state. Gospel for Asia has more than 175 missionaries serving in Rajasthan. The Rajasthan State Assembly has passed a new anti-conversion bill after a previous attempt failed. This second bill, however, is shrouded in conflict.

Called the "Freedom of Religion Act," the bill proposes fines and jail time both for people who change religions as well as those who are responsible for the conversion if certain steps are not taken which are outlined in the bill:
• A person wishing to convert must give a 30-day notice to a district magistrate.
• The magistrate would conduct an inquiry into whether the person was pressured to convert.
• Someone converting back to his "original" religion need not give notice.
• The registration of entities involved in conversion would be revoked.
The original bill, drafted in 2007, was sent to Rajasthan's governor. She refused to sign the bill and eventually sent it on to India's president for consideration.

In the neighboring state of Gujarat, the government simply withdrew its anti-conversion bill when the governor refused to sign it. Rajasthan politician G. Kataria drew much controversy when, after a year of waiting for the governor to sign the bill, he led the state assembly to draft the new bill. They passed it and sent it on to the governor.

Kataria's colleague G. Tiwari also drew negative comments when he publicly criticized the previous governor for not signing the original bill.

Making it distinct from anti-conversion laws passed in other states, Rajasthan's new bill offers what it calls "special protection" for women, minors and members of low castes, according to zeenews.com. Those found guilty of converting people among these groups would face harsher punishment.

Kataria said these changes were "necessary to maintain communal harmony and to curb conversion activities in tribal areas," zeenews.com reported. The opposition party in Rajasthan's assembly walked out of the building in protest of the second bill's passing.

Gospel for Asia's missionaries in Rajasthan covet prayer that no matter what happens, they will remain strong in their faith and continue to serve. Pray also that believers will not be discouraged and that many will continue coming to Christ.

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