People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
April 30, 2006
THE so-called Freedom (!) of Religion Bill, which the state assembly dominated by the BJP government of Rajasthan has passed, is not only in violation of the freedom of speech, expression and conscience, and of observing and propagating one’s own faith, granted by articles 19 (I) & II and 25 (I) to (III) of our constitution. While the bill deprives the minorities of these valuable freedoms, it also amounts to an open attack on secularism that is one of the fundamental tenets of our constitution. Containing several dreaded features, it has now become a handy weapon in the hands of communal forces to frighten and harass the religious minorities in the state.
Rajasthan home minister Gulab Chand Kataria made his communal intentions quite clear while moving the bill in the assembly. He said the state government was aware that some religious and other bodies as well as individuals were using wrong methods like use of money and/or intimidation to proselytise people, which is creating discontent among the people belonging to the other religion. To him, such “illegal” activities lead to a loss of social harmony and create a law and order problem for the state government. Kataria said the bill was brought in the assembly to curb such “illegal” activities and “preserve communal harmony” in the state.
But the real intention of the state government was evident from the fact that the loose provisions of the new law allow the authorities to accuse anybody of forcing someone to convert to another religion, put him behind bars for two years and also slap upon him a Rs 50,000 fine. Moreover, the ‘crime’ will be cognisable and non-bailable. This creates the possibility for the police to harass any person belonging to a minority religion, and would make it difficult for the minorities to propagate their faith. The Rajasthan government drew up this bill on the model of similar bills passed by the Modi government of Gujarat in 2003 and by the Chhattisgarh government in 2005. One has to note that minorities are living in an atmosphere of deep insecurity in both these states.
This law is not something fortuitous. In the whole of Rajasthan, outfits of the Sangh Parivar have been seeking to create a communal atmosphere during the last two and a half years, and the state government has been fully if clandestinely backing up their drive. A well-planned hate campaign has been run first against the Muslims on the madarsas issue and then against the Christians. Men belonging to these outfits organised a heinous attack on a Christian religious congregation in Kota two years ago, in which several persons coming from outside were injured.
The Immanuel Institute was also attacked on the false allegation that it was effecting conversions forcibly. On February 22, feigning hurt over the book Haqeeqat, hundreds of activists of the RSS, BJP, Bajrang Dal and VHP attacked educational institutions belonging to the said institute, vandalised their premises and injured many persons. The hate campaign against the Christian community was, simultaneously, further intensified. The government cancelled the registration of these educational institutions as well as orphanages run by this body, and stopped their supply of grains and other provisions. The Kota municipal corporation also issued an order to demolish the building that houses the Immanuel Mission Society, and the social welfare minister Madan Dilawar delivered an inflammatory speech in the assembly, saying that he would be personally responsible if the law failed to take its course in regard to this body, and that the people of Kota could stone or hang him publicly in that case. It was the same minister who had delivered an inciting speech while hoisting the national flag on January 26 this year.
In the state capital Jaipur also, attacks were launched on the institutions and churches belonging to the Christian community, in the presence of the police. Some people belonging to this community were arrested.
Dr Samuel Thomas, chief of the Immanuel Bible Society, was arrested from Delhi, put behind bars, and has been denied bail to date.
On March 21, protesting such anti-minority steps by the BJP government, thousands of secular minded people staged a demonstration in front of the state assembly. The whole opposition staged a round the clock dharna in the assembly for 4 days, and brought the assembly proceedings to a complete halt on the issue.
Earlier, on March 11, a delegation of 5 CPI(M) members of parliament had visited the affected institutions; they included Sebastian Paul, Suresh Kurup, K S Manoj, Lambodaran and Bellaraman. The delegation charged the BJP state government with using the book Haqeeqat as an excuse for attacking the minorities. Yet the government has not budged an inch from its communal drive.
One will recall that in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh a communal atmosphere was created in the tribal areas adjoining Gujarat, especially after the anti-Muslim pogrom in the latter state in 2002. The tribal people were incited against the minorities and the BJP reaped the benefits of this communal campaign in the last assembly and parliamentary polls. And now the BJP is adamant to effect a communal polarisation in the whole of Rajasthan.
While the Left parties took the initiative and brought other secular parties together to run a campaign against communalism, the Congress --- the main opposition party --- is inactive on the issue. While the party thought its duty was fulfilled after having raised the issue in the assembly, at places its local level units have even joined the anti-minority drive. While the news that L K Advani’s rathyatra would cover Rajasthan inculcated a deep sense of fear among the minorities, the CPI(M) and the CPI have decided to run a joint sustained campaign against the communal menace in the state.