Today's Paper

Tough ordinance to ban conversions

Chennai Oct. 5. In a move certain to trigger controversy, the Jayalalithaa Government today came out with a stringent ordinance banning religious conversions either ``by force, allurements or fraudulent means''.

The Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Forcible Conversions Ordinance issued by the Governor, P. S. Ramamohan Rao, not only bars ``forcible'' conversions but hands imprisonment and a hefty fine to those found guilty of the ``offence''. The ordinance requires that all religious conversions be reported to local magistrates.

``No person shall convert or attempt to convert either directly or otherwise any person from one religion to another either by use of force or by allurements or by any fraudulent means''. Nor shall any person ``abet any such conversion''.

Any violator is liable for imprisonment, which may extend up to three years and a fine which may extend up to Rs.50,000. However, in case the converted persons are women or SC/STs, the penalty would be much higher. In such cases, the imprisonment would extend up to four years and the fine to Rs.1 lakh.

And, ``whoever converts from one religion to another by himself or whoever takes part in conversions as religious priests shall within such period specified send an intimation'' to the local magistrates.

Explaining the reasons for issuing the ordinance, a notification states the Government received several reports of conversions and hence in the interests of ``law and order'' it was compelled to come out with law prohibiting conversions.

The ordinance comes over a month after mass conversions of poor Hindus, especially women, to Christianity were reported in Madurai. While the evangelical group, which organised the programme claimed that it was a ``voluntary exercise'', media reports attributed it to ``exploitation of the poverty conditions of the converted persons''. And, in Tamil Nadu, where untouchability offences are woefully rampant, conversions of Dalit Hindus to Islam to escape the ``outcaste'' status, have been quite common ever since the mass conversion at Meenakshipuram in Tirunelveli district in the 1980s.

Curiously, the ordinance comes about a fortnight ahead of the Assembly session, convened for October 24. However, Assembly department officials claim that there have been several precedents of ordinances being issued just after the convening of the House.

The ordinance also closely follows the orchestrated pro-Hindutva moves of the AIADMK general secretary, Jayalalithaa, ever since she stormed back to power in March this year. Soon after she donned the Chief Ministerial mantle, Ms. Jayalalithaa unveiled a grand scheme to organise `Annadhanam' (free lunch) to devotees at big shrines. Along with `Annadhanam', spiritual classes were offered on Sundays in the shrines. She herself launched the `Annadhanam' scheme at the Kapaleeswarar temple here in the strong presence of leaders of the BJP and Hindu outfits. Now, it is being implemented in over 150 temples.

When the Prime Minister, A.B. Vajpayee, called for a national debate on conversions a couple of years ago, Ms. Jayalalithaa unequivocally supported his stand, saying there was nothing wrong in such an exercise.

Also, the Hindu outfits in the State, particularly the Hindu Munnani which backed the AIADMK in the recent byelections, have been demanding a crackdown on ``coercive" conversions.

Recommended for you