Guj government withdraws amended religion bill

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Gandhinagar, Mar 10 (UNI) The Gujarat government today withdrew the 2006 amendment of the controversial Gujarat Freedom of Religion Bill, first introduced in the state Assembly in 2003.

In consensus with all the members, Home Minister Amit Shah today withdrew the drafted amendment, introduced in the state Assembly on September 2006.

After introduction of the draft amendment of the Bill in 2006, there were vociferous protests from Jains and human rights groups, following which Governor Naval Kishore Sharma returned it to the Assembly for reconsideration.

While returning the amendment, the Governor said that it violated Article 25 of the Indian Constitution, which guarantees all citizens the right to practice, promote and propagate religion of their choice.

The state government in September 2006 sent a draft amendment of the Bill to the Governor, which classified Jainism and Buddhism as sects of Hinduism.

It also classified Roman Catholics and Protestants as sects of Christianity and put forth a condition that anybody who wanted to convert had to take the permission of an official of the collector rank.

The Governor had found this objectionable, and asked the State Assembly to reconsider the change. He said, ''The proposed amendment would amount to withdrawing the protection against forceful or inappropriate religious conversions, particularly in case of Jains and Buddhists.'' The Governor had cited large scale protests from different religious and social organisations, especially from the Jain and Christian communities, indicating towards the unacceptability of the proposed amendment.

Human rights groups had vehemently opposed the Bill because it might flare up communal tension. Delegations that met the Governor when the Bill was passed in 2006 had taken particular objection regarding the inclusion of Jainism as a ''sect'' of Hinduism.

The seemingly innocuous change had attracted widespread protests with the All India Digambar Jain Dharam Sanrakshini Sabha being the first organisation to protest against amalgamation of their religion into the Hindu fold.

UNI HT/PVN SR SP RS1823

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