Row over talks to ‘end’ act against forced conversion

GUWAHATI, Jul 16 (Agencies) | Publish Date: 7/17/2018 12:28:28 AM IST
Talk of repealing the Arunachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 1978, which prohibits conversion from one religious faith to any other by use of force, inducement or fraudulent means, has sparked a debate in the BJP-ruled northeastern state. 
The controversy started last month, when CM Pema Khandu said the act would be brought before the next assembly session for repeal because it could be misused, Economic Times reported. 
Elections are scheduled in Arunachal next year, with the term of the assembly ending in April. The anti-conversion law “could undermine secularism and is probably targeted towards Christians,” Khandu said at a function organised by the Arunachal Pradesh Catholic Association at the Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Karsingsa. Tribal groups in the state are against repealing the act. The Indigenous Faith and Cultural Society of Arunachal Pradesh (IFCSAP) and the Nyishi Indigenous Faiths and Cultural Society said talk of a repeal amounts to minority appeasement. 
However, Ram Madhav, BJP general secretary in-charge of the northeast, declared that the chief minister had not said the law would be repealed. The state unit of the BJP is against tweaking the APFR act because it says it is a freedom of religion law and not an anti-conversion law. 
In consultations held on Friday with the Indigenous Faith and Cultural Society of Arunachal Pradesh (IFCSAP), the CM reiterated that the state government will stick to its secular principles. 
IFCSAP said that entities that oppose the APFR act and demand its repeal are those that indulge “in forceful conversions through fraudulent and coercive means.” 
The Galo Indigenous Faith and Cultural Council (GIFCC) opposed Khandu’s remarks and asked him to apologise to indigenous faith followers in the state. 
The Arunachal Baptist Church Council welcomed the CM’s declaration. 
The council said the act has “failed to deliver for it has never been practically enforced in Arunachal Pradesh. It is, in fact, a dead law.” 

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