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India: Concerns mount as sixth state passes 'anti-conversion bill'

16 August 2017

Concerns mount as sixth state passes 'anti-conversion bill'

The Indian state of Jharkhand has passed an 'anti-conversion bill' at its Assembly meeting, despite demands that the bill should be sent to a select committee for further scrutiny.

The chief of the ruling Hindu nationalist party (BJP), Radha Krishna Kishore, defended the new bill stating that 'there has been a 30 per cent increase in the population of Christians in Jharkhand' and 'the people converted were the poor who were often lured to take up the new religion'.

Dubbed the 'Religious Freedom Bill 2017', the bill bans conversion 'by use of force or by allurement or by any fraudulent means' and is punishable with up to 100,000 rupee fines (£1,200) and four-year prison terms. It also states that anyone converting willingly must give Jharkhand's Deputy Commissioner details of the time, place and the name of the person administering the conversion.

If it is approved by India's new president - who is part of the, BJP - Jharkhand will join Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat states in having an 'anti-conversion law'.

The anti-conversion bill: is it necessary?

Many critics have argued against Radha Krishna Kishore's reasoning that the new bill will protect the poor from the 'lure' of other religions.

"[The Bill] is not normal," Indian journalist Anto Akkara told news agency, World Watch Monitor. "It shows the growing arrogance of the Hindu nationalists."

Stephen Marandi of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (the only other party to win seats in a state dominated by the BJP) noted that 'there are already penal provisions in the Indian Penal Code for those indulging in coercive conversion or using allurement'.

An anonymous local pastor in Ranchi told International Christian Concern: "The anti-conversion law will ruin the lives and the witness of the church. The BJP, having the power both at the national level and the state, wants to implement its Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) ideology."

Fears of sectarian violence

Critics have also warned that this law may lead to sectarian violence.

"This bill will further divide the people of Jharkhand, particularly the tribal people who lived in unity for ages," said the pastor from Ranchi.

Two of the states already implementing 'anti-conversion' laws are in the top three states where violence against Christians is highest, according to a 2016 report by the Evangelical Fellowship of India's Religious Liberty Commission.

Yesterday, at a speech given celebrating India's 70th Independence Day, India's Prime Minister Modi of the BJP said 'we will not tolerate violence in the name of faith' and painted a picture of a unified and inclusive India, where 'there is no one big or small... everybody is equal'.

Yet this new law may in fact prove the opposite for Christians and other minorities in Jharkhand.

Support your church family in India:

India is number 15 on the 2017 Open Doors World Watch List. Through local partners, Open Doors is supporting the church in India with emergency aid, advocacy support, holistic training, livelihood and community development, adult literacy programmes, and Bible distribution.

  1. Pray. Please pray for believers in Jharkhand, for protection and strength. Pray that the BJP would reduce its Hinduvta agenda, that God would change their hearts and turn them to himself. And pray for Open Doors local partners supporting Christians in India, for wisdom and energy.
  2. Give. Every £21 could resource a Rapid Response team of volunteers for a month as they legal assistance, food and medical care, as well as comfort and support, to persecuted believers.
  3. Bring a group to Standing Strong. Pastor Sandeep Kumar* from India will be speaking at our Standing Strong celebrations in Birmingham and Belfast in October, alongside others. Book your tickets, bring a group, hear directly from our persecuted brothers and sisters, and stand with them in prayer and worship.

Source: Open Doors; World Watch Monitor; ICC; CNN; Sky News

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