PRESS NOTE Dr John Dayal, Member, National Integration Council, Government of India
6 April 2006
Law experts say bigoted legislation can be challenged in Supreme Court
Non-BJP Political parties to meet, decide on major campaign with Civil groups
It was my privilege to be Chief Guest at a very special public meeting called by over 20 Civil Society groups of Rajasthan in the State Capital on 1st April to consider the People’s response to the so called Rajasthan Freedom of Religion Bill which has been adopted by the Cabinet of Chief minister Vasundhra Raje Scindia and is sure of passage in the Legislative Assembly where the Bharatiya Janata Party, the political arm of the fundamentalist Hindutva Parivar, has a stranglehold majority.
Father Raymond Coelho of the Rajasthan Christian Forum presided, and social activist and PUCL leader Kavita Shrivastava moderated the proceedings which were marked by the presence of representatives of almost all opposition political parties, as well as a colleague of eminent jurist and Supreme Court Senior Advocate Rajeev Dhawan. Dhawan sent a written critique making clear that the Bill can be challenged in the Supreme Court of India. [I give later the full text of the Controversial Bill and the comments of Advocate Rajeev Dhawan’s group]
It has been decided to call an all-Party meeting to ensure a vigorous, if doomed, challenge in the Assembly, appeals to the Governor and the President of India , as well as mass mobilisation and education of the people, and finally a challenge in the Courts.
I and a mixed team (Christian pastor, Supreme Court Advocate Catholic Nun, Hindu journalist) had last month investigated the crisis in Kota where the MA Thomas father and son of the Emmanuel Mission are being methodically and systemically targeted by the police and district authorities under pressure of the BJP leaders, including the state Home minister. The State judiciary is allowing itself to be part of the game. We had then seen the negative aspects of one of India ’s largest states with a beautiful people whose past is full of acceptance. Their kings had got their daughters married into the Mogul dynasty. Their kings and prime ministers had invited Jesuits to open schools and colleges, bequeathing them vast tracts of land. Their leaders have sought the presence of nuns to take care of the destitute and the orphans. And yet we saw the district collectorate (offices of the administrative chief of the district) virtually look like temples and police and officialdom share a religious bigotry with their political bosses.
The meeting in Jaipur introduced us to the political fighters of this land of warriors — Marxists with just one legislator in the Assembly but the passion of a multitude, Muslim and Sikhs, and scores of Hindu-led Civil groups keen that such a law besmirch their proud history of secular society. Kavita Shrivastava herself led the charge of civil society.
Having seen the law operate in Orissa, Arunachal and Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh, and later introduced in Gujarat and then Tamil Nadu, I know first hand what its real intentions are – to deny Dalits the Freedom of Choice in matters of Faith and liberty, to bring the State to assist only one religion, and to divide citizens and their privileges and rights on the basis of religion. Such laws – the second one keeps Dalit Christians out of the paternal love of Indian law as provided in the Constitution — communalise an officially secular India . I have had official reason to ask Chief secretaries and Collectors the number of forced or fraudulent conversions they have seen, caught or punished. In twenty-five years and four states, the answer has been Zero, really Zero. In fact, AICC chief Dr Joseph D Souza and I, with much help from Udit Raj, had the undiluted pleasure to see the conversion of 700 or so Dalits in a church in Chennai – to Buddhism! With the state’s brutal police later beating up the contractor who provided the chairs !!.
In fact the manner in which Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalitha first imposd the anti conversion law to woo the Hindutva BJP and its cadres, and the alacritiy with which she then withdrew the law (if not yet fully) goes to show the utter sham of the reasons behind the politicians falling back to such a law when the elections loom large.
Rajasthan has close to 70 million people, with not more than 100,000 Christians. Why, then, is the government afraid of this micro minority, each speaker at Jaipur meting wondered. To them it was clear that it was to make it punitive for Dalits to seek the liberty of freedom of faith, it was to Hinduise the polarise the body polity. It was to win political advantage. The vagueness of clauses of the law was to make it convenient for subservient police and civil officials to harass the people. (Jaipur, 2nd April 2006)