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Thursday, 24 October, 2002, 10:34 GMT 11:34 UK
Christian protest over conversion plan
Sacred Heart Cathedral
Christians are in the minority throughout India
Christian schools in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu have closed in protest at an order banning forced religious conversions.

The move was also supported by Muslims and low-caste Hindus, who observed a protest fast in parts of the state.

The ordinance banning what it calls "forcible religious conversions" will become a law if approved by the state assembly, whose current session started on Thursday.

Hindu protesters object to the Pope's visit in 1999
Hindus are concerned at forced conversions
The ruling bans all religious conversions done by allurement, force, threat or the offer of gifts or other concessions.

Those who defy the ban could face three years' imprisonment and a hefty fine.

It makes it compulsory that all conversions should be brought to the attention of the district magistrate.


Minority religions such as Christians, Muslims and the low-caste Hindus (Dalits) say it is against the provisions in the constitutional which ensure the right to practise any religion.

Dalits have been especially condemning of the ordinance and say it is targeted against them.

The Dalits, who say they are discriminated against and inhumanly treated by the higher-caste Hindus, argue that this ordinance deprives them of their right to choose Christianity or Islam where they hope to receive better and equal treatment.

Hindu groups have welcomed the ordinance, saying Christian missionaries are exploiting the poverty of the Dalits and convert them by all sorts of promises.


Christians and other minority religious groups are worried that this law might be misused, as the definition of forced conversions is vague.

The Right Reverend V Devasahayam, a bishop from the Church of South India in Madras, told the BBC: "We do not consider forceful conversions as conversions at all. And the Vatican documents say forceful conversion is a sin."

A group of bishops along with representatives of Dalits and Muslims met the chief minister Jayalalitha and appealed to her to withdraw the ordinance.

Archbishops of Madras, bishops, priests and nuns of all Christian groups as well as representatives of Dalits and Muslims have taken part in the protest.

Although the high court on Wednesday ruled that students and children should not be drawn into any political or religious protests, educational institutions run by Christian and minority religions in the state remained closed.

See also:

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