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Indian villages ban missionary work

by
03 October 2014

by a staff reporter

iSTOCK

Decree: the High Court in Mumbai

Decree: the High Court in Mumbai

MORE than 30 villages and towns in central India have banned non-Hindu missionaries from entering, and placed a further ban on non-Hindu religious activities.

The bans have been passed by the village councils, known as gram sabhas. The text of one resolution passed by a gram sabha in the district of Bastar, Chhattisgarh, said that it was needed to stop "forced conversion by some outsider religious campaigners".

The Hindu right-wing organisation Vishva Hindu Parishad has been blamed for stirring up the councils to pass the ban.

Bastar, which is in the Central India Tribal Belt - a very rural area that has poor rates of literacy - has been targeted by fundamentalists, Christian groups say.

The Indian human-rights activist Dr John Dayal said that it was a "dangerous trend".

"Such bans on a particular faith, and the friction they breed, can so easily lead to violence against religious minorities. Memories of the massive violence in Kandhamal in 2007 and 2008, which had its roots in such indoctrination and communalisation, are still fresh, and the struggle for justice for the victims still continues in the High Court and the Supreme Court.

"The governments of the State of Chhattisgarh and the Union must therefore act urgently to stem this explosive evil while there is still time," Dr Dyal said.

There have also been local news reports that Christians have been denied food rations, and some have been subjected to violence.

The RC Archbishop of Delhi, the Most Revd Anil Couto, has demanded the immediate reversal of the bans and the intervention of the Chhattisgarh government.

Such a ban "seriously impacts on the secular ethos of India and damages its international reputation," Archbishop Couto said in a statement.

"The bans violate the Indian citizens' constitutional rights to the freedom of faith, and the freedom of movement, expression, and association."

Other Christian groups, including the Evangelical Fellowship of India, have said that the bans are unconstitutional, and they have urged the state government to revoke it.

High Court directive. A new directive from the Bombay High Court means that no one can be compelled to declare his or her religion on a government form. New forms will now have a "none of the above" option for the first time. The Court ruled that there was no law compelling an individual to have a religion.

The court case had been filed by three members of the Full Gospel Church of God, who said that, though they believed in Jesus Christ, they did not believe in Christianity as a religion.

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