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Gujarat clubs Jains, Buddhists with Hindus

Mehtab Singh

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GANDHINAGAR: For three years, the Narendra Modi government sat over a Bill seeking to regulate religious conversions, even after it was passed by the Assembly and had the governor’s consent.

Nothing came in the way of the law, apart from the chief minister’s own inhibitions to figure exactly how he could further consolidate his image as the Hindutva mascot.

Finally, on Tuesday, the Gujarat Assembly passed the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Bill (Amendment) Bill, 2006, with the amendment, coming after three years of conflicting legal opinion being balanced with political and ideological motives.

Amid protests by an outnumbered Opposition, the Bill went through, along with an important newly added clause which clubs Jains and Buddhists with Hindus, in the same manner as Shias and Sunnis on one hand and Protestants and Catholics on the other.

It virtually means conversions between Jains and Hindus, Buddhists and Jains, and Hindus and Buddhists can happen easily, without government’s permission.

More importantly, a Hindu who decides to become a Buddhist, would not be called a convert. Ditto for a Protestant seeking to become a Catholic, or vice versa, and a Sunni becoming a Shia or vice versa.

The curbs are on crossing the faith-lines between Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. Surprisingly, Sikhs are not even mentioned in the draft.

But if a Hindu wants to become Christian — the main target for Modi — the district magistrate has to be informed first. Christian community leaders are livid that the law is now on the verge of being enforced.

"The Bill is extremely draconian and unconstitutional," said Jesuit-activist Father Cedric Prakash, Minister for state for home Amit Shah, who introduced the Bill, said Jainism and Buddhism were "construed as parts of Hinduism".

During the discussion on the Bill, an appeal was made by a hardline BJP MLA and former state for home Gordhan Zadaphia, to also club Sikhs with Hindus.

It is learnt that the government had indeed toyed with the idea of describing Sikhs as "part of the Hindu family", but dropped the proposal fearing protests.

Shah refused to comment on the issue. Arguing that the amendment would not stand legal scrutiny, leader of opposition Arjun Modhvadia said: "Buddhism was given the status of a separate religion by the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992. As for Jains, they were given the same status by a division bench of the SC in 2004."

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