Victory for Religious Freedom in Challenge to Indian “Anti-Conversion” Law

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Victory for Religious Freedom in Challenge to Indian “Anti-Conversion” Law
The case will now go to the Indian Supreme Court

India, South and East Asia, September 24, 2012: An Indian state’s draconian “anti-conversion” law has been partially struck down in a legal challenge brought by Christians and celebrated as “a triumph for religious freedom” in the country.

The Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) took its case against the Himachal Pradesh Religion Act 2006 to the state’s high court, which ruled on 30 August that some provisions of the law were unconstitutional.

The court removed a section that required a person intending to convert from one religion to another to give 30 days’ notice to the district magistrate. Failure to do this was punishable with a fine.

Two rules regarding the implementation of the act were also struck down. One required the district magistrate to give notice of the conversion request to any affected party before granting approval, and the other required a police case to be registered if the conversion was thought to have taken place using force or inducement or without notice.

The EFI challenged the law because of the ways in which it was being used, especially by Hindu extremists, to stop people from converting to Christianity.

Those wanting to convert were listed in a public registry, which was checked by Hindu extremists, who then tracked down, persecuted, and even murdered new Christians. People wanting to become Hindus did not, however, need to give public notice.

Christians involved in evangelism have also faced false accusations of forcibly converting Hindus, for which they have been beaten and arrested.

Justices Deepak Gupta and Rajiv Sharma ruled that the state had no role to play if anyone converted to a different faith of their own will. The bench said:

Citizens not only have the rights of conscience and belief, and the freedom to change this belief, but also they have the right to keep their beliefs secret.

The World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission welcomed the verdict as “a triumph for religious freedom in India”.

The case will now go to the Indian Supreme Court where it is expected that extremist Hindu groups will exert pressure for the decision to be overturned.

Arguing in defense of the Religion Act, Subramanian Swami said that conversions are against Hindu philosophy and should not be permitted.

The EFI’s victory in this case is a step in the right direction for religious freedom in India, but there is still a long way to go. The rest of the Religion Act in Himachal Pradesh was upheld, and there are similar laws governing religious practice in other India states. These restrict the freedom of non-Hindus to share their faith.

– barnabas team

Reporters as police stenographers

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Reporters as police stenographersDelhi, September 27, 2012: As 16 terror cases end in acquittal the English press is guilty of giving in to the dubious claims of the infamous Special Cell. The writer wonders why reporters never question police claims.

Will the English press ever again report verbatim what the Delhi Police’s Special Cell tells them?

The Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association’s just-released report on 16 cases of terror filed by the Special Cell that ended in acquittal, is an indictment not just of the functioning of the Special Cell, but also of the English press. The report cites examples of reports in national newspapers such as The Times Of India, The Hindu, The Indian Express, and Hindustan Times, which carried verbatim, often without the use of the word “alleged”, the version given by the Special Cell at press conferences where often, the arrested innocents were produced as “hard core militants’.

Among the many paraded this way was 24-year-old Kashmiri Imran Kirmani, an aeronautical engineering graduate who had just landed a job in Delhi. His background came handy for the Special Cell to describe him as “part of an LeT module” planning to carry out a “9/11 plot”. “Prize catch” was the caption given by The Hindu to his picture on page one, surrounded by Special Cell plainclothesmen.

Four years later, the judge acquitted Kirmani. “And when I was released, there was no media, no cameras waiting to tell the world that I was innocent. It wasn’t a story,” Kirmani told the Kashmir correspondent of The Indian Express Muzammil Jaleel.

The JTSA report cites only the Express as having bothered to talk to Kirmani. But The Telegraph’s Muzaffar Raina did so too. The paper carried the story on page one.

Not that this in any way compensated for Kirmani’s trauma. “My dream (of becoming an aeronautical engineer) has died,” he said more than once to Jaleel. “Who will give me a job now?”

It wasn’t just Delhi’s Special Cell that ruined this blameless young man’s future. The English press also played a part.

This columnist has tried for years to find an answer to the question: why do reporters implicitly believe the police when they claim breakthroughs in “terror” cases? Because the police bear the authority of uniform? They are the ones who should know?

Even when the country’s first big terror strike took place on March 12, 1993 in Mumbai, there were doubts whether everyone picked up was part of the conspiracy. At that time, the lawyer of one of those arrested approached me with his client’s story. His client claimed that his only offence was that he had rented out a scooter, something he did everyday to strangers. How was he to know what it would be used for? (It was used to plant a bomb.) The TOI refused to publish the story, which was based entirely on the lawyer’s plea filed in court. The man was eventually discharged after spending three years in jail.

This was just after the 92-93 Mumbai riots, wherein the Mumbai police had shown just how aligned its men were with the Shiv Sena. The Times’ reportage of the riots had exposed some of this and earned it the abuse “Times of Pakistan” from the RSS. But riots were one thing, simultaneous bomb blasts across the city, killing random innocents, were a different kettle of fish. Would publishing that story have made the Times look like it was supporting the terrorists? Is that what stops newspapers from expressing doubts about police claims?

April 2006 should have been a turning point for investigations into bomb blasts. That was when the Nanded blasts took place and the RSS hand in the bomb blasts became clear. But even after Nanded, the police stuck to its only-Muslims-are-terrorists theory. Given the well-known anti-Muslim prejudice of the police, that was understandable. But what prevented the press from questioning this theory after April 2006?

Indeed, what prevents the press till today from picking holes in theories put out by our investigative agencies when it comes to crimes allegedly committed by Muslims? Why do reporters become “police stenographers” as the JTSA report calls them?

After the 2006 serial train blasts in Mumbai all newspapers faithfully reported the theory given out by the ATS. The seven bombs were assembled in a tiny room in a Govandi slum, open to all passersby. Then, from the north-east of Mumbai, they were carried to the north-west, to Bandra. They were kept in pressure cookers. These pressure cookers were kept in train compartments. Whatever you say, sirs. Never mind if the final charge sheet in the 2006 serial train blasts case has no mention of pressure cookers. Pakistan was involved, said headlines. Never mind that when it came to actually presenting evidence to Pakistan, the ATS developed cold feet.

The most bizarre aspect of the 2006 train blasts is that another branch of the Mumbai police, the Crime Branch, discovered in 2008 that quite a different set of persons were behind these blasts. The ATS had laid the blame on SIMI’s door. But an alleged Indian Mujaheedin member arrested for a series of blasts in 2008, reportedly “confessed” to the Crime Branch, headed by the legendary Rakesh Maria, that it was the IM that was behind the train blasts. Both police units stuck to their respective claims. In 2009, this man who “confessed”, Sadiq Shaikh, was discharged by the court on an application filed by the ATS which said he had no role in the train blasts, a crime to which he had reportedly “confessed”!

And these are the agencies we blindly trust. Among them is the Delhi Police Special Cell, as high profile as Maharashtra’s ATS, and, as the JTSA report shows, as dearly beloved of the Delhi press.

Sensational

On September 23, 2007, The Times of India carried a news item titled: “Indian Intelligence informer spills the beans”. The report was sensational. It quoted a letter from Tihar Jail by an ex-IB informer detailing how IB, working with the Delhi Police’s Special Cell, plants its own “jehadi maulvis” to lure Muslim youth to commit terrorist acts. The CBI, directed by the Delhi High Court to investigate the case in which this informer was arrested by the Special Cell as an Al Badr terrorist, had corroborated the most important accusations made by the informer, said the report.

In November 2008, the CBI filed a closure report in the case, gave the two accused a clean chit and recommended legal action against three sub-inspectors of the Special Cell: Ravinder Tyagi, Vinay Tyagi, and Subhash Vats, for “fabricating and planting evidence to implicate” the accused “for an oblique motive.” In its closure report, the CBI revealed that the mobile phone records of one of the accused showed that he was in constant touch with IB officers.

Despite the Times following this story, these sensational findings were not widely reported in the English press. Even the Times did not do any larger article based on this “mind-numbing” report. (This phrase was used by the Times to describe one of the many so-called terror conspiracies solved by the Special Cell.) However, subsequent developments in the case were reported, including a complaint by CBI officer Santosh Kumar that one of the indicted Special Cell men had threatened him. So it can be safely said that the entire English press was aware of the CBI’s findings against the Special Cell.

In February 2011, Additional Sessions Judge Virender Bhat, acquitting seven alleged Kashmiri terrorists, ordered an FIR to be registered against the Delhi Police Special cell’s Sub Inspector Ravinder Tyagi and three other sub-inspectors for framing the accused. He also ordered the Delhi Police Commissioner to
Hold an inquiry against the four policemen, who he said, had “brought shame and disrepute to the entire Delhi police force”.

Both the Asian Age and The Indian Express reported this judgment, with the latter even interviewing the Kashmiris who were acquitted. But again, there was no follow-up on this indictment by the court against such high-profile policemen. By this time, Ravinder Tyagi had won a President’s medal; his name had also figured in the infamous Batla House encounter.

In January 2012, Amir Khan was acquitted after spending 14 years in jail for a total of 19 cases foisted on him. Almost every paper published the story of his frame-up by Delhi’s Special Cell and his acquittal in 17 of them.

Yet, despite being aware of all these indictments and irregularities, when the Delhi Police Special Cell arrested journalist Syed Kazmi in March this year for the bomb attack on the car carrying an Israeli diplomat’s wife in Delhi, all newspapers faithfully reproduced the police version with the word “alleged” featuring occasionally–the moped left in Kazmi’s house by the bomber; the $ 5000 first installment received by Kazmi from the bombers… The team in charge of the case included many familiar names whose earlier cases had ended in acquittal. But no scepticism was voiced.

Kazmi’s son’s version was of course reported a few days later.

Speculation

Again, in December 2010, when two alleged Hizb-ul-Mujaheedin members were arrested from Dehradun, reports speculated whether the Indian Military Academy was the target. None of the reports bothered to mention that not even a year earlier, four youth arrested for allegedly planning a terror strike on the IMA had been honourably acquitted.

There appears to exist a marked sympathy towards the Special cell, which emerges in the frequent use of words such as “Special Cell dealt a blow” or “Special Cell resurrects with triple hit” (this from TOI). This report rejoiced at the return of ACP Sanjeev Yadav to the Cell. Yadav features in many of the cases documented by the JTSA report.

When courts and respected investigative agencies accuse the same police unit more than once of framing innocents, and the press, instead of highlighting these indictments, plays them down, how can the victims so framed get the publicity they deserve? Two cases cited in the JTSA report on the acquittal of Ayaz Ahmed shah, an alleged Kashmiri terrorist, are important here.

An acquittal does not mean that the accused is innocent. However, only after going through the judgment can you conclude whether the acquittal was based on technicalities or there was just no case against the accused. Quoting the judgment, the JTSA report shows that Ayaz Ahmed Shah was acquitted after the prosecution’s story was found riddled with holes. The depositions of Inspector Mohan Chand Sharma, the inspector gunned down in the Batla House encounter, and other members of the Special Cell team who arrested Shah, were found riddled with discrepancies and contradictions. Shah had been picked up on the basis of a tip off from an informer. But under cross-examination, the policemen admitted that the informer had neither revealed the suspect’s name nor description!

Yet, Midday reported on Shah’s acquittal with this headline: “Another terrorist goes free”, while The Telegraph described Shah as an “outlaw” who “slipped through”.

However, newspapers do follow-up on acquittals. Tehelka specially, does so regularly. Doing so is neither compensation nor a favour to those released. What is needed is simply news exposing the way our police have made it their dharma to frame innocent Muslims with terror charges.

Post Script:

The Delhi Police Special Cell in a rebuttal to the JTSA report claims that “six cases out of 16 referred to in the compilation have actually ended in conviction, while one case is still pending trial”.(Reported in The Hindu, September 20).

However, responding to this, the JTSA has listed out each of the 16 cases and pointed out that only in one of them were four out of the ten accused convicted of terror charges. The convictions that have been secured in other cases have been under the Arms Act or the Explosives Act, not on the charges of terrorist conspiracy or waging war against the State. “Courts have clearly held that there was nothing to prove that the accused were members or activists of terrorist organizations, or that they intended to carry out terror attacks,” says the rebuttal.

– tcn

Himachal HC rules in favour of EFI

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Himachal Pradesh, September 16, 2012: Although universal in nature, religious liberty is not universal in practice the world over. And a law designed to prevent conversions to Christianity in India is exhibit A for the truth that, in some countries, religion is but one more aspect of life controlled by government or ruthless factions that fear no government.

And this is why legal victories restoring or broadening religious liberty are so important, particularly when those victories unburden a people who theretofore had been required to alert local magistrates before changing religions. In Evangelical Fellowship of India v/s State of Himachal Pradesh, the High Court of the State of Himachal Pradesh ruled against just such a law.

The law required those intending to change religions to provide a district magistrate with “prior notice of at least 30 days … of his intention to do so.” Failure to provide advance notice of conversion required a mandatory police investigation,

prosecution, and sanctions. And if notifying the local government magistrate of one’s new religion wasn’t invasive enough – all persons desiring to change their religion were listed in a public registry, scanned regularly by fundamentalist Hindu extremists that make it a daily routine to retaliate against, persecute, and even murder new Christian converts. And, of course, the public notice law did not apply to anyone changing their religion to Hinduism.

There is a mighty struggle occurring in India in which 300 million Dalits (formerly called “untouchables”) are suffering at the bottom rung on the Hindu caste system, enduring punishment in this life for what some Hindu faithful describe as sins committed in past lives. And millions are desperate to escape by seeking refuge in the Christian faith where all are created in God’s image and equal in the eyes of God.

Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys and allies represented Evangelical Fellowship of India are challenging the law because it was being used as a cudgel to stop – through intimidation and fear – a potential flood of conversions to Christianity.

Moreover, as all laws have symbolic importance, representing a society’s dividing line between acceptable and unacceptable behavior, the law and its operation communicated that conversion from Hinduism to Christianity was disapproved.

The law clearly violated the Indian constitution, which purports to guarantee freedom of religion, and served as a license for misconduct against new Christians whose names appeared on the public registry. So it shouldn’t pass unnoticed that Christians in India and especially Christian clergy are attacked, harassed, and beaten every single day. In fact, over 100 Christian Dalits were murdered just three short years ago in the state of Orissa by fundamentalist Hindu mobs that ran amuck for months with little or no government intervention.

The victory of Evangelical Fellowship of India was one step in a long and on-going struggle to win genuine religious freedom in India. The case will now go to the Indian Supreme Court where extreme pressure will be brought to bear by extremist Hindu organizations, doing everything in their power, to curtail the lowest Hindu caste from fleeing a life of religiously sanctioned poverty and degradation.

Every victory like this swings the pendulum closer to where all civilized people should want to be – a place where religious liberty is not only universal in nature, but in practice as well.

– christianpost

‘National Girl Child Day’ against selective abortions and female infanticide

January 25, 2012 by  
Filed under Abortions, Legal, newsletter-india

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Save Girl ChildMumbai, January 24, 2012: One girl in 13 does not reach the age of six. A member of the Pontifical Academy for Life says that “socio-cultural factors” are at the root of gender discrimination. The Catholic Church adopts strategies to “protect and promote girls.”

India marks its third ‘National Girl Child Day’. “One in 13 girls does not survive beyond six years of age,” said Dr Pascoal Carvalho. “All forms of discrimination and violation of the rights of the girl child need to be eliminated, within and outside the family.” Speaking to AsiaNews, Dr Carvalho, who is a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life, noted that this day is a reminder of the urgency to protect girls from selective abortions and female infanticide.

The current United Progressive Alliance government set aside this day in 2009. The chosen date corresponds to the day in 1966 when Indira Gandhi became India’s first woman prime minister. The Catholic Church celebrates the same event on 8 September, nativity of Mary.

With the introduction of ultrasound and amniocentesis, tens of thousands of female foetuses were never born. The tests were “originally designed for detection of congenital abnormalities of the foetus,” said Dr Carvalho, who is also a member of the Human Life Committee of the Archdiocese of Bombay. Now, they “are being misused to know the sex of the foetus with the intention of aborting it if it happens to be that of a female.”

In order to stop such abuses, the government passed the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Technologies Act, which include penalties for anyone, doctor or parent, who carries out such tests for this purpose.

Yet, “Even though the law is a powerful instrument of change, alone it cannot root out this social problem,” Dr Carvalho said. “Girls are devalued not only because of economic considerations but also because of socio-cultural factors,” like lineage, protection for parents in their old age and rituals like lighting the funeral pyre and other death related rites. “Culturally, girl children are not valued and, in many Indian communities, familial and social pressures often dictate who is born and who survives.”

In some regions, sati is still practiced, whereby a widow joins her husband in the funeral pyre in order to fulfil her role as wife. However, it is a way to remove the economic “burden” of the woman.

The Central Supervisory Board set up to monitor implementation of the Act has investigated the matter. So far, 94 doctors have been convicted under the Act, but licences of only 15 have been revoked by the Medical Council of India (MCI).

Whilst the government does not oppose such technologies, they should be used for their original purpose. District authorities can monitor how they are used, said joint secretary in the health ministry Anuradha Gupta.

Beside the government, the Catholic Church has also taken steps to counter gender discrimination and protect the rights and freedom of girls. In 2010, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India adopted in fact a gender policy with strategies to protect and promote girls.

The police includes protecting girls from any form of discrimination and abuse, sexual or otherwise; projecting a positive female images among girls, boys, parents, teachers and society at large; avoiding all forms of stereotyping in Church-run inter- and extra-curricular activities; and promoting government programmes for girls in homilies, hospitals, dispensaries and catechism classes.

– nirmala carvalho asianews

Important US Government documents

April 11, 2011 by  
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The US State Department’s report is far more critical to governments than the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom which has rapped India’s knucles thrice see the links below.
• http://www.uscirf.gov/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2269&Itemid=46
• http://www.uscirf.gov/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2261&Itemid=46
• http://www.uscirf.gov/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1492&Itemid=1

Click on the links below for US Report on Indian Human Rights Violations & also for the Excerpts:

• Complete Report • Excerpts – Derrick D’Costa