Don’t preach us, India tells Pope

via published on May 24, 2006

NEW DELHI: In a “firm, appropriate and timely” response, India on Tuesday told the Vatican that it disapproved Pope’s criticism against banning conversions and his remarks on religious intolerance in the country.

Minister of State for External Affairs, Anand Sharma told the Rajya Sabha that Charge d’affaires to the Holy See in Delhi was summoned by his Ministry on Monday and it was conveyed to him in “no uncertain terms that Government of India disapproved (Pope’s) statement” and was displeased by it.

Pope Benedict XVI had made the statement to new Indian Ambassador to Vatican, Amitava Tripathi, when he presented his credentials on May 18.

“There are disturbing signs of religious intolerance which have troubled some regions of the nation (India),” the Pope was quoted as saying.

He emphasised, “The reprehensible attempt to legislate laws to ban conversions is clearly discriminatory” impinging on the fundamental right of religious freedom.

Sharma was responding to agitated members of BJP led by Ravi Shanker Prasad who during Zero Hour in Parliament said the Pope’s statement was “grossly unwarranted and we protest and condemn it”.

Prasad attacked the UPA government of maintaining silence on the issue.

Explaining the action taken by India, Sharma said it was pointed out to the Charge d’affaires that the Pope was not properly briefed about secularism and religious tolerance in India.

“I will like to assure the House that Government of India’s response was firm, appropriate and timely,” he said.

Earlier last week, representatives of world religions met in Rome to begin working on a “code of conduct” that would affirm conversion as a basic right but curb aggressive proselytising.

The Vatican and the mostly Protestant and Orthodox World Council of Churches launched the initiative after Christian minorities in India complained about aggressive proselytising by newly arrived evangelical groups.

The conversion meeting came two months after Afghanistan threatened to execute a Muslim convert to Christianity, who took refuge in Italy after an outcry from Western countries and the Vatican. Several Muslim states prescribe death for apostates.

Meanwhile, the Rajasthan government passed a law last month threatening five years in prison and heavy fines for proselytising, but the governor has not yet signed it.

Five other states have already passed such laws to curb missionary activity there.

BJP has been advocating conversion bans in recent years. The party argues that such bans foster communal harmony, but Muslim and Christian minority groups accuse the party of whipping up Hindu voters’ fear to boost its political support.

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