Indian State Announces Repeal of Anti-conversion Law

( [email protected] ) May 27, 2004 08:08 AM EDT

An official of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu has announced the repeal of the state anti-conversion law shortly following India’s Congress Party defeated the previous pro-Hindu government in national elections, Compass Direct reported May 25.

In a five-page statement announced May 18, Chief Minister Selvi J. Jayalalithaa noted, “I have ordered that the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Forcible Conversion of Religion Act 2002 be repealed at once.”

Jayalalithaa heads the local branch of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazakham party (AIADMK), which was soundly defeated in the general elections. While she maintains her current position as Tamil Nadu’s chief minister until assembly elections in 2006, opposition members who won 35 of the 39 local seats in Tamil Nadu have called for her resignation, according to Compass Direct.

The Tamil Nadu anti-conversion law was enacted on Oct. 5, 2002, despite large-scale protests by the Christian minority and opposition parties. It contained loose definitions and required all conversions to be registered with the state government. Without proper registration, both “converter” and “converted” could be jailed and fined.

Christians, who comprise approximately 6 percent of Tamil Nadu’s population, contend that the law was passed with the intent to harass religious minorities and restrict missionary work in the state.

Defending her original decision to enact the law, Jayalalithaa said in her statement, “It was only with the good intention of further promoting religious harmony among all religions that my government enacted the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Forcible Conversion of Religion Act.”

She also claimed that her state government had “always been the strongest champion of the rights and welfare of every minority community, be it Christians, Muslims or others.

“This act was never intended to be used against the minorities. However, as leaders of some minority communities have requested withdrawal of this law, I have ordered that it be repealed at once.”

Richard Howell, general secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India, told Compass Direct, “This is an answer to prayers offered by Christians everywhere. We are happy [Jayalalithaa] is moving away from Hindutva.

“This decision is a result of the fact that not only Christians but the whole state, including opposition parties, revolted against the anti-conversion law,” Howell added. “It could be a pointer that minorities can, with the political parties, lobby for the repeal of similar acts in other states as well.”

John Dayal, general secretary of the All India Christian Council, agreed that the move raised hopes for further legislative change. “We are shortly going to demand politically that the states of Orissa, Arunachal, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat repeal similar legislation,” he said. “We are also considering approaching the new central government to enact central legislation which will bar any state from enacting future laws that curb freedom of faith or in any way erode constitutional guarantees to the minorities,” Dayal said.

Jayalalithaa also reversed several other rulings made during the past three years, which the opposition had tagged as “anti-people” policies.