Within days of the Catholic Secular Forum’s assertion that 2015 was the worst year for Indian Christians since Independence, Archbishop Leo Cornelio Friday alleged that the anti-conversion law was being misused in Madhya Pradesh, where false cases of forced conversion are slapped against Christians.
“Fringe groups try to take advantage of the fact that the BJP is in power,” the Archbishop of Bhopal diocese said, within days of the CSF calling MP the worst offender because it reported the most number of attacks on minority community members.
“Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has good intentions but there’s little one man can do when fringe groups feel it’s their own government,” he said, without naming any organisation or group.
Nearly five decades ago, the state had enacted the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, which was amended in 2013 to make prior permission from the district collector necessary before conversion, and to enhance jail term for forced conversions.
Responding to a query on conversions, Cornelio admitted that there are fundamentalists in every religion, but the religion itself can’t be blamed for it. “Thousands of students study in Christian schools but how many of them complain about conversion?” he said, adding that there could be “an odd case of conversion but without inducement. People are free to make their religious choices”. He insisted that “conversion” was secondary because what ranks first is humanitarian service.
Meanwhile, the Catholic church has accused the BJP government of sitting on a proposal to hand over a couple of government schools in backward areas to improve education.
“They provide free mid-day meals, uniforms and books but no education is imparted,” Cornelio said, adding that he had personally spoken to the CM about the idea. A proposal was sent nearly a year ago but the government has not acted on it, he said.
However, Education Minister Deepak Joshi told The Indian Express that he had only received an oral proposal, and not a written one.
“It’s not easy because the infrastructure and teachers belong to the government. I am open to the idea if they send a proper proposal,” he said. He also cited an example of a school run by an educational society set up by the majority community, which provides free food, uniform, books and education to students without any help from the government.
The minister said the school in Ratibad, on the outskirts of Bhopal, plans to provide free education to about 1,000 children in the future. “I have visited the school and will take the CM there,” he said.