In an environment of increasing religious intolerance, two state legislatures in India may require individuals to register a change of religion with local officials.In Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh states, supporters of the legislation hope the measures will curb conversions to Christianity. But Christian leaders are demanding the immediate withdrawal of the bills, saying the legislation violates India's constitutional guarantees for freedom of religion. Article 25 of India's constitution explicitly grants the right to "profess, practice, and propagate religion," subject to public order, morality, and health. In Gurjarat state, the Freedom of Religion bill also has a registration clause aimed at curbing so-called forcible conversions. I n Uttar Pradesh state, the Religious Places and Building Regulation bill prevents constructing or making alterations to religious sites without governmental permission. The bill awaits presidential assent.In another Indian state, Orissa—where missionary Graham Staines and his sons were murdered last year—newly enacted restrictions require individuals to obtain official permission before changing religion.Such legal moves are an attempt to "provoke social tension by communal forces," says Richard Howell, general secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India."Christians stand united against such atrocious attempts to curb religious freedom. All these bills and regulations are directed against minorities, and in Orissa and Gujarat, targeted against the Christians in particular," Howell says.But Hindu leaders have a different perspective. "The process of conversions had created chaos," counters M. A. K. Swain, a member of the Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janta Party-controlled parliament from Orissa. ...1
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