Conversion issue in Maharashtra upsets Christian bodies

Mumbai, India - Christian organisations in Maharashtra are lobbying with political leaders to prevent fresh measures against conversion activities of missionaries in the state.

The organisations have submitted memorandums to Congress party president Sonia Gandhi and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Sharad Pawar on the matter and also expressed fear of harassment by law enforcement agencies.

The move follows statements by Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister R.R. Patil in the state legislature that a separate cell would be set up by the government to monitor foreign funds coming into the state for missionary activities. Though Patil's statement was part of efforts to prevent a bill by a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLA against conversions from being passed, Christian organisations fear they could be harassed.

"The separate cell will only be used to harass organisations working for the welfare of Dalits and tribals," Abraham Mathai, member of the state Minorities Commission said.

Bodies like the All India Christian Council, the Mumbai Catholic Sabha and the Christian Secular Forum are holding meetings with officials of the Catholic Church and other Christian denominations and lay people to mobilize public opinion on the matter.

The Christian bodies say the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act enacted by the central government was sufficient for the purpose and the state government need not set up a separate cell. They alleged that Christian organisations were being discriminated against while Hindu bodies like the Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) continue to receive funds from abroad.