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인도교회들, 기독교개종에 대한 '공식가 지불'제도에 저항

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2000-03-29 00:20
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Indian churches protest against 'price tag' for Christian
conversion
ENI-00-0101

By Anto Akkara
New Delhi, 21 March (ENI)--Church groups in the Indian state of
Orissa are taking legal action in the high court to suppress a
regulation requiring people who want to change religion to seek
official permission first.

The regulation was introduced by the Orissa state government
last November, when it was led by the Congress Party, prompting
accusations that Congress was attempting "to please" the state's
Hindu majority before last month's state elections. Despite this,
Congress lost heavily in the elections to a coalition made up of
the Hindu-nationalist BJP party (Bharatiya Janata Party) and the
BJD (Biju Janata Dal).

Conversion to Christianity is a highly controversial issue in
Orissa. In January last year Australian Baptist missionary Graham
Stuart Staines and his two sons were burned alive, allegedly by
Hindu fundamentalists who accused Graham Staines of converting
tribal people. In September last year, Catholic priest Arul Doss
of Balasore diocese was also murdered in the tribal region of
Orissa, also allegedly over the issue of conversions.

A 10-member delegation of Christians met the state's new chief
minister, Naveen Patnaik, on 12 March, to demand the scrapping of
the regulation. Patnaik assured the delegation that he would
"uphold the constitution", a reference to the secular basis of
India's foundation. However, Catholic bishop Thomas Thiruthalil,
of Balasore, Orissa, said the new administration seemed to want
to "follow up" the Congress Party initiative.

Under the amendments to the Orissa Freedom of Religion Rules of
1989, enacted by the Orissa government on 26 November last year,
"any person intending to convert his religion shall give a
declaration" to a magistrate that "he intends to convert his
religion on his own will".

The magistrate has to forward the declaration to police to see
if there is any objection "to the proposed conversion" before
permission for the conversion is granted.

The amendments also lay down that "the concerned religious
priest shall intimate the date, time and place of the conversion
ceremony" to the district magistrate 15 days before it takes
place.

Violation of the provisions is punishable by imprisonment up to
two years and a fine if the person who has converted is a minor,
woman, tribal or member of a low caste.

Archbishop Raphael Cheenath of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, chairman of
the Orissa (Catholic) Bishops' Regional Council, told ENI: "This
[order] is certainly a violation of all human rights. The
fundamental freedom of religion is completely taken away by the
order."

Speaking to ENI in a telephone interview on 20 March from
Bhubaneswar, Archbishop Cheenath described the order as "total
interference in freedom of conscience". He said "the entire
procedure" was being made "dependent on the decision of local
police who can be bribed for anything".

The order was unlikely to be invoked "if a Christian denounces
his faith and becomes a Hindu", the archbishop said, pointing out
that Christians represented less than half a percent of Orissa's
population of 31 million.

"The new amendment denies us the freedom of religion guaranteed
by Article 25 of the constitution. That is why we have challenged
it in court," Swarupo Patro, general secretary of the All Orissa
Baptist Churches Federation, told ENI from Bhubaneswar.

Two petitions against the regulation - from the Bhubaneswar
Christian Council and the Orissa Minorities Forum (OMF) - were
filed in the high court in Orissa on 8 March, said Patro, who is
convener of the OMF and a Baptist elder. He also works for the
state government.

In real terms, Patro said, "a would-be Christian" from a remote
village had to pay out at least 1000 rupees (US$24) for the
preparation and submission of the affidavit and for police
verification.

"Well, now there is a price tag to become Christian," he said.