Courtesy: <a href="http://indianexpress.com/article/india/jharkhand-passes-anti-conversion-bill-govt-rejects-demand-for-more-scrutiny-4794360/" target="_blank">The Indian Express</a>, <a href="https://indianexpress.com/article/india/jharkhand-quotes-mahatma-gandhi-to-push-its-conversion-bill-4792888/" target="_blank">The Indian Express</a>, <a href="https://thewire.in/politics/jharkhand-gandhi-advertisement-christians" target="_blank">The Wire</a>, <a href="http://img.etimg.com/thumb/msid-48906780,width-672,resizemode-4,imglength-27376/news/politics-and-nation/jharkhand-cm-raghubar-das-has-narrow-escape-as-planes-tyre-bursts-on-landing.jpg" target="_blank">Economic Times</a>,
The Jharkhand Assembly on Saturday passed the Anti-conversion Bill despite opposition demands that the BJP-led government sends the bill to a select committee. The demand was turned down and now the Religious Freedom Bill 2017 will be sent to the Governor, following whose approval it would go to the President for assent.
The ruling NDA ministers hailed the bill as a legislation that should have been implemented right when Jharkhand became a state, while the opposition parties pointed out that penal provisions already exist in the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
What exactly is the Religious Freedom Bill 2017?
The new legislation is an anti-conversion bill which aims to criminalise 'forced' religious conversions in Jharkhand.
Preventing Hindus from converting to other religions has been the central theme of the BJP-led government's agenda since it came to power in the state in December 2014.
Tribals account for 26% of Jharkhand's population and as per the 2011 census, the state's Christian population grew by 29.7% and that of Muslims grew by 28.4%, while the Hindu population saw a rise of 21% in the last 10 years. As reported by The New Indian Express when the bill was first proposed by the state government, it is likely to increase the existing confrontations between the combined forces of the BJP and RSS and the Church.
The bill has the following provisions:
Imprisonment of three years and fine of Rs 50,000 or both, and four-year imprisonment and Rs 1 lakh fine, or both, if the person converted is a minor, woman or a member of Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe.
A person converting willingly will have to inform the Deputy Commissioner about details such as time, place and the person who administers the conversion proceedings.
How was the bill advertised?
The BJP-led government of Jharkhand advertised the Religious Freedom Bill 2017 with a quote from Mahatma Gandhi which said:
"If Christian missionaries feel that only conversion to Christianity is the path to salvation, why don't you start with me or Mahadev Desai? Why do you stress on conversion of the simple, illiterate, poor and forest-dwellers? These people can't differentiate between Jesus and Mohammad and are not likely to understand your preachings. They are mute and simple, like cows. These simple, poor, Dalit and forest-dwellers, whom you make Christians, do so not for Jesus but for rice and their stomach."
The advertisement was shared on Jharkhand Chief Minister Raghubar Das's Facebook page as well:
It also contains photographs of Jana Sangh icon Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, tribal leader Birsa Munda and former MP, the late Kartik Oraon. Its headline reads: "An initiative towards fulfilling the dream of Birsa Munda and the late Kartik Oraon."
Munda had converted to Christianity before returning to his tribal beliefs. Oraon had brought a bill in Parliament on the issue of Christian converts utilising the dual benefits of being a minority and a member of the Scheduled Tribe. It failed to get passed.
As reported by The Indian Express, Ram Lakhan Prasad Gupta, director, Public Relations Department, said,"It (the ad) is more to raise awareness. It should not be seen in context of the proposed Bill, which is part of the government's legislative process."
When asked about the source of Gandhi's quote, he said, "I will have to find that out."
The Wire reports that the quote is actually a distorted version of what Gandhi said to John R. Mott, an American evangelist and chairman of the International Missionary Council, when the Travancore proclamation was taking place. Gandhi fundamentally opposed to using religion to lure people and in his long conversation with Mott, he termed 'Harijans' (Hindu group with the lowest social status) as ignorant cows. While this can be criticised and debated, the fact remains that Gandhi himself was a devotee of Jesus and Muhammad and had no problem with people choosing Christianity on their own.
The advertisement of Jharkhand's anti-conversion bill directly targets the Christian communities of the state by making use of a smiling photograph of Gandhi. Akin to Hindus and all other communities, the Christians are legitimate tax-paying citizens of the secular country of India.
It is another thing for the advertisement to have been published and broadcasted by the RSS and its affiliates but the state itself (and the Chief Minister) indulging in maligning a lawful community of the nation is not only wrong but dangerous.
As reported by The Wire, the move should be seen as a tactic to deflect the people's anger against the state government making changes in the key principles of the Chota Nagpur Tenancy Act and the Santhal Pargana Tenancy (SPT) Act. The amendments give the government power to make non-agriculture use of the agricultural land of Adivasis and transfer tribal land for social welfare projects like hospitals, schools, etc.
The Church was supporting the people protesting against the amendments which dilute the rights of the tribals over their lands. Since then, it has been on the radar of the BJP-led Jharkhand government.
Anti-conversions laws are not new in India. Several Indian states have enacted similar regulations which prohibit Hindus from converting to Christianity. In 2003, after the Godhra riots, the BJP had passed an anti-conversion law in the state. Within 2008, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Himachal Pradesh also had similar laws.
The ad of the Religious Freedom Bill 2017 calling Adivasis 'mute like cows' is insulting to the entire community. It shows what the government thinks about 26% of its population – gullible and ignorant dolts who do not have a mind of their own; despite the fact that many tribals areas are self-governed.
The RSS is known for its propaganda against the Sarnas (indigenous religions of the Adivasi populations of Central-east Indian states) and the Christians.
In 2015, it had said that all tribals are Hindus and a separate religious code for them is unnecessary. This statement is completely untrue.
Even though Tribals in India do practice Hinduism and Christianity, they also have other religious faiths. Many tribal communities worship nature and non-human entities like animals and plants. The Sarnas (which means sacred groves) base their religion on oral traditions passed from generation to generation. They strongly believe in one God, the Great Spirit.
So no, not all tribals are Hindus.
The Logical Indian community condemns the Jharkhand government's propaganda against Christian communities of the state. India is a secular nation and the government should always take efforts to safeguard our diversity. We, the citizens of India, are united in our faiths, however, more often than not this is used to divide us. The Jharkhand government's act to promote false stories about Christians and Tribals is highly irresponsible. We can only hope that both the state and central governments refrain from spreading distorted facts for political gains.