India's ruling right-wing Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is about to introduce a national law that will effectively prevent religious conversions among the Dalits. Increasing numbers of India's 250 million Dalits, formerly known as untouchables, have been converting to Buddhism and Christianity.

In September the BJP-controlled National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes introduced the rule without seeking approval from the Indian Parliament. The rule is modeled after similar legislation in Tamil Nadu, Orissa, and Gujarat states. It will become law when officially published.

The rule requires that anyone wishing to change religion receive written permission from a local official.

"This rule is not against conversion. We are just trying to regulate forcible conversion," said Bizay Sonkar Shastri, commission chairman.

In India, 350 million people are illiterate. About 260 million fall below the poverty line. The rule also requires that aspiring converts have a secondary education.

"This will effectively deny a large section of Indians their right to religious faith ensured by India's Constitution," said Oliver D'Souza of the All India Christian Council.

Meanwhile, India's Supreme Court on September 1 ruled that there is "no fundamental right to convert" someone from one religion to another. The court said the government may restrict conversions.

Related Elsewhere

Christianity Today has many other articles on conversion bans in India:

Fending off Hindutva | Christians blast Nazi-like survey, 'draconian' conversion law. (May 16, 2003)
Gujarat Religious Survey Troubles Indian Christians | Government of Indian state says it has been gathering statistics on the minority at the behest of federal officials. (March 14, 2003)
Police Arrest Indian Christians Over Dalit Conversion | Low-caste Indians reject Hinduism, turn to Christianity or Buddhism. (Dec. 06, 2002)
Quitting Hinduism | 'Untouchables' find new dignity in Christian faith. (Nov 27, 2002)
Indian Christians 'Living in Terror,' Rights Groups Report | Accusations against priest lead to intense conversion pressure in Rajasthan. (Nov. 06, 2002)
Indian State Bans Conversion | Christians say Tamil Nadu ordinance threatens relief work. (Oct. 11, 2002)
Christians Encouraged as 50,000 Dalits Leave Hinduism | Low-caste Hindus see conversion as their only escape from oppression. (Nov. 05, 2001)
In Orissa, You Must Ask the Government If You Want to Change Religion | Christian church leaders say they're trying to ignore the controversial law, but police aren't doing the same. (March 12, 2001)

See more news in our India area.

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