An ordinance banning conversions by "force, allurement, or fraudulent means" could put Christian relief work at risk in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.

The decree introduced last week is expected to be ratified into law when the Tamil Nadu assembly convenes later this month. The Tamil Nadu state government claimed the measure was aimed at preventing attempts by "some religious fundamentalists and subversive forces to create communal disharmony in the name of religious conversion." Under the law, all conversions must be reported to a district magistrate.

The legislation follows the conversion of 250 Dalits (members of India's lowest economic and social class) to Christianity in August by evangelists of the Seventh-day Adventist church at Madurai, Tamil Nadu's second-largest city. Tamil Nadu is a Southern Indian state with a strong Christian community that dates back 2,000 years. The capital city is twelve percent Christian with some 2,000 congregations and hundreds of Bible schools.

Hindu groups in the state welcomed the emergency legislation, which provides for a punishment of up to three years in prison and a fine. VHP international president Ashok Singhal said that freedom of religion does not cover conversion, but only the practice, propagation, and protection of it. But Christian organizations are strongly opposed to the immediately effective ordinance.

The All India Christian Council (AICC) has threatened to challenge the law in court. It has also called for a national day of prayer and fasting tomorrow and a day of non-violent protest next week.

In a press release, AICC president Dr Joseph D'Souza writes:

This ordinance puts severe curbs on the peoples right to religion as enshrined in the Indian Constitution, and is targeted ...
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