Freedom of Religion under Threat in India. FIACONA


USA. The Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations of North (FIACONA) has expressed its deep concern about the unintended adverse impact on the freedom of faith of the minority communities in India and on the work of minority religious institutions, especially Christian institutions, as a result of the proposed Foreign Contribution (Management and Control) Bill, 2005. A delegation headed by the President of FIACONA, Rev. Bernard Malik met with Mrs. Sonia Gandhi in New Delhi and presented her with a petition asking for a re-examination of the Bill. The delegation pointed out that the Bill provided ample scope for misuse of its provisions that were ostensibly intended to control the use of foreign funds and prevent them from being used for anti national purposes. FIACONA's representation pointed out that the provision for registration of organizations and grant of permission under the Bill to receive support from overseas donors could be arbitrarily and maliciously used to prevent or bar such support from being received. Rev Malik emphasized that "the criteria for rejecting registration of an organization was so broadly and vaguely worded that they could be misused to target organizations (particularly charitable Christian organizations) on flimsy and spurious grounds. Actions that supposedly violate communal harmony which attract a severe penalty under the Bill have been so loosely defined that minority community institutions will inevitably suffer even when they are the victims of motivated attacks at the hands of religious extremists of the majority community." A member of the delegation, Sajan George of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) pointed out that "the Bill originated in the regime of the NDA whose cadres were notorious for their targeting of minority religious institutions. The Bill uses terms such as 'conversions through inducement or force' to create a smokescreen by which any peaceful, prayerful religious event of Christian institutions could be misrepresented and stigmatized." George Abraham, General Secretary of Indian National Overseas Congress (INOC) who accompanied the delegation expressed the hope that the Government would be willing to discuss these issues and come to a satisfactory agreement that would allay the fears of the minority charitable institutions that are engaged in the essential work helping the needy and the poor even in the remote areas of the country. The FIACONA petition states: "We view this bill with grave concern that if it becomes law, it would provide the means to those in the extreme sections of Indian society to persecute the law-abiding and service minded persons in the Christian community. While the UPA Government has made many worthwhile policy, legislative and practical efforts to give constitutional protection to freedom of religion a possible change of Government in the future could make many charitable Christian Institutions once again vulnerable to the communal elements of society and their sympathizers within the governing bureaucracy."

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