Gujarat to respect religious freedom following the adoption of controversial legislation and attacks against missionaries there.
The appeal by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) came shortly after seven Christians working with the Indian Missionary Society (IMS) were reportedly released on bail on charges of "attempted murder" against a group of Hindu militants who assaulted them last month.
An eight person of the group, Pastor Dasrath Nanji Dilwad, was believed to be in judicial custody Monday, October 2, as his case has been transferred to the High Court. Dilwad was also charged with misuse of a firearm, Christian news reports said.
The group of eight IMS missionaries was returning home from a prayer meeting September 20 when they were apparently attacked by a group of 15 militants, who were beating them with wooden clubs. One of the women, Manjula Bhen, reported widespread bruising and swelling after the attack.
The violence came a day after the parliament of Gujarat passed controversial "anti-conversion" legislation September 19 which human rights groups fear could further undermine the position of Christians in the troubled state.
"The most controversial point in the amendment was the construal of Jainism and Buddhism as "denominations of the Hindu religion’, which provoked widespread denunciations from representatives of the two religions and from the National Commission for Minorities," said Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
"The implementation of the 2003 Gujarat anti-conversion law was delayed by various legal considerations, but is expected to be facilitated by the passing of the amendment. Expecting the anti-conversion law to be implemented shortly, Christians have expressed deep concern about its implications for them," added CSW in a statement to BosNewsLife.
Conversions to Christianity are subject the restrictive stipulations of the law, which include a obligation for any priest performing a conversion "ceremony" to obtain prior permission from the district authorities. Some Indian Christians fear that mission and other church activities could be targeted under what critics describe as "the loosely-defined prohibitions" of conversions by "force or allurement or by fraudulent means."
"There are also fears of an upsurge in anti-Christian violence, such as that seen in Madhya Pradesh state since its anti-conversion law was amended," CSW said.
Critics have highlighted the inconsistency of the Gujarat government in introducing an anti-conversion law while also having been heavily involved in supporting the festival held in the Dangs district in January 2006 for “re-conversions” to Hinduism.
Several Indian church leaders and Christian rights groups said Christian believers were vilified in the publicity materials for the event, which used slogans such as "Arise Hindus, throw out the Christians".
Some have suggested that the upcoming state elections have motivated the ruling Hindu nationalist BJP party to push through the law, using religious minorities as a scapegoat to marshal political support. "The BJP administration in Gujarat is well-known for its anti-minority stance," including Christians CSW said.
"We condemn the passing of this amendment in the strongest terms, as it is both unconstitutional and inconsistent with international law, and damages the rights and identities of religious minorities," CSW Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas told BosNewsLife.
Thomas said Gujarat is the fourth state this year to pass legislation "further restricting religious conversions, and we urge the international community to send a clear message by strongly denouncing these developments."
Christian observers have linked anti-conversion legislation and related violence to concerns among Hindu groups about the spread of Christianity among tribes and Dalits, the "lowest caste" in India’s ancient system of Hinduism. (With reports from India).