Don't ban religious conversions: Pope
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Don't ban religious conversions: Pope

However, India said it was a secular, democratic country where adherents of all faiths enjoyed equal rights. Do you think the Pope is right?

india Updated: May 20, 2006 15:51 IST

India has responded with diplomatic equanimity to Pope Benedict XVI's seemingly provocative remarks condemning attempts to ban religious conversion in certain states.

The pope had told India’s new ambassador to the Vatican, Amitava Tripathi, on Thursday that the country should "firmly reject" attempts "to legislate clearly discriminatory restrictions on the fundamental right to religious freedom". He had also taken note of the "disturbing signs of religious intolerance which had troubled some regions of the nation".

New Delhi responded on Friday with a statement, reiterating the constitutional "freedom of conscience" and the right to freely profess, practise and propagate religion. "It is acknowledged universally that India is a secular and democratic country where adherents of all faiths enjoy equal rights," said a foreign ministry spokesperson.

It was the pope's second declaration this week in defence of religious freedom in countries where Christians are a minority. In India, the statement comes in the backdrop of Rajasthan planning to become the sixth state to enact the anti-conversion law the pope was referring to. Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Orissa already have laws that bar conversions but allow re-conversions to Hinduism. Jharkhand has declared its intention to enact a similar law.

The BJP-ruled Rajasthan, however, has not been able to convince Governor Pratibha Patil to give her assent to the Religious Conversion Bill. She returned the bill making a point similar to the one made by the pope -- that its provisions would affect the right to freedom of religion.

The BJP has often attributed attacks on Christian missionaries, including the murder of Graham Staines in Orissa, as reactions to their proselytising. During his recent Bharat Suraksha Yatra, BJP president Rajnath Singh had described proselytising "dangerous" and asked all BJP-ruled states to enact a similar law.

First Published: May 20, 2006 00:45 IST