Church groups in the Indian state of Orissa are taking legal action in the high court to suppress a regulation requiring people who want to change religion to seek official permission first.The regulation was introduced by the Orissa state government last November, when it was led by the Congress Party, prompting accusations that Congress was attempting "to please" the state's Hindu majority before last month's state elections. Despite this, Congress lost heavily in the elections to a coalition made up of the Hindu-nationalist BJP party (Bharatiya Janata Party) and the BJD (Biju Janata Dal).Conversion to Christianity is a highly controversial issue in Orissa. In January last year Australian Baptist missionary Graham Stuart Staines and his two sons were burned alive, allegedly by Hindu fundamentalists who accused Graham Staines of converting tribal people. In September last year, Catholic priest Arul Doss of Balasore diocese was also murdered in the tribal region of Orissa, also allegedly over the issue of conversions.A 10-member delegation of Christians met the state's new chief minister, Naveen Patnaik, on March 12 to demand the scrapping of the regulation. Patnaik assured the delegation that he would "uphold the constitution," a reference to the secular basis of India's foundation. However, Catholic bishop Thomas Thiruthalil, of Balasore, Orissa, said the new administration seemed to want to "follow up" the Congress Party initiative.Under the amendments to the Orissa Freedom of Religion Rules of 1989, enacted by the Orissa government November 26, "any person intending to convert his religion shall give a declaration" to a magistrate that "he intends to convert his religion on his own will."The magistrate has to forward ...1
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