Christian council demands repeal of Tamil Nadu ordinance

The Global Council of Indian Christians has demanded the immediate withdrawal of the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Forcible Conversions Ordinance, issued recently.

The Council's national convener, Sajan K. George, said it was in violation of religious freedom and aimed at targeting Christians engaged in poverty alleviation. "We are intrigued and alarmed by the hurriedly promulgated ordinance and constrained to believe that the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Jayalalithaa, succumbed to the Parivar script at the cost of Dravidian ideals. Ms. Jayalalitha should instead immediately address the rampant untouchability offences as pointed out in the study by the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes."

In a press release, he said the study revealed Tamil Nadu's failure in giving Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes access to drinking water in common water sources in villages and to temples, tea stalls, saloons, laundry services and social ceremonies. He claimed the State had also not been able to remove discrimination regarding seating in the village sabha and also those regarding education, health, housing and cremation/burial grounds.

Mr. George said the Constitution guaranteed a secular, democratic government and protection of religious freedom for all citizens. "However, tension between Hindus and Christians will continue to pose a serious threat to the concept of secularism, democracy and plural polity with the promulgation of the ordinance and its scope for partisan implementation against Christians."

Mr. George said Tamil Nadu was the "Dravidian soul of India" and it, along with other States, remained secular, choosing to accept a multi-religious society for the welfare of its people and for peaceful co-existence in a welfare state. The ordinance undermined the great ideals and dreams of E.V. Ramasamy Naicker (Periyar) and C.N. Annadurai, founding fathers of the Dravidian renaissance movement.

It was also in violation of Article 25 of the Constitution, the foundation on which the secular Indian democratic republic is formed. The Article guaranteed the Right to Freedom of Conscience and Religion. As to the significance of this fundamental right, in Article 12(2) the Constitution declares as void "any law made in contravention of this clause to the extent of devolution". In open contravention of this, laws were being made to abridge freedom of religion.

Mr. George said the ordinance stipulated conditions that were authoritarian and inconsistent with the ethos of a civil society. Involving the district administration/police in the process of a person's desire to change his faith was "ridiculous" and very often, the mentor involved in the conversion and the new seeker were brutalised in the villages. "The ordinance is arbitrary and aimed at the curtailing the freedom of the Christian minority and also undermining Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which declares that everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right includes freedom to change religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others in public or private, to manifest religious belief in teaching, practice and observance. We appeal to the Tamil Nadu Government to immediately withdraw the ordinance."