As we approach Christmas, India’s Christians are asking the church around the world to join them in praying against the introduction of a national anti-conversion law in their country. According to Open Doors field sources, this new law may be introduced and tabled during this winter season – there are worries that it would lead to more attacks against Christians and other minorities during the Christmas season.
Increasing numbers of states in India have passed anti-conversion laws. In 11 states, now, these laws state that nobody can be forced or coerced into conversion to another faith. That sounds good in theory – but, in reality, it is often abused to target Christians and other religious minorities, and stop believers worshipping, gathering together or telling others about Jesus. Notably, anti-conversion laws are not used to stop forced conversion (or ‘reconversion’) to Hinduism. In these states, Hindutva is often prevalent – the ideology that all Indians should be Hindu.
Christians in these states live under greater levels of persecution than their brothers and sisters elsewhere in India. But now there is talk of anti-conversion laws being passed at national-level, which would make life harder for believers everywhere in the country. Please join India’s Christians in praying that this doesn’t happen.
Worries about the Indian government passing a nationwide anti-conversion law have increased since the Indian Supreme Court accepted and heard a petition about ‘religious conversion by force and allurement’ – and determined that it was a very serious threat to national security. The Supreme Court also stated that the national government must step in on this concern – which they did, holding a hearing that concluded that the right to religious freedom does not include the right to convert.
"The new law would be very strict – criminalising conversion with severe punishments." Dr Murry
In the aftermath of this hearing, many local Christian groups believe that the government is seriously considering passing a nationwide anti-conversion law. Under this law, it would even be a crime to convert without giving local authorities advance notice. The prospect of this law is alarming, as Open Doors local partner and expert on Indian policy, Dr Yohan Murry, says: “The Indian Constitution says religion is a matter of the state’s jurisdiction, not the national government. If a central anti-conversion law is passed, all states will be forced to formulate subsidiary laws. Secondly, any anti-conversion law then at the state level could never be revoked unless the central law is repealed.”
As with the existing state laws, there are also early signs that any nationwide anti-conversion law wouldn’t apply to Hindus – and that authorities are unlikely to intervene if the laws are abused to persecute religious minorities. “The government hints that it will pay no heed to the misuse of the law by Hindutva fanatics,” says Dr Murry. “Even though the Central Government says this law will protect the rights of women and those who are economically and socially backward, it is prone to abuse. The new law would be very strict – criminalising conversion with severe punishments ranging up to 10 years [in prison] with heavy fines.”
Currently, the government’s plan to enact national legislation on criminalising religious conversions has hit a roadblock with the Ministry of Law and Justice, which advised against the move, but believers are anxious that moves towards the introduction of this nationwide law will be made swiftly.
Anti-conversion laws are known to intensify attacks on Christians. “Hindu nationalists are emboldened and sometimes use violence in place of dialogue,” says Murry. “Freedom of Religion Acts are instrumental in brutally suppressing and exploiting Christian minorities and punishing pastors and church workers. Anti-conversion laws also embolden Hindu nationalist groups to harass and attack Christian activities.”
"Anti-conversion laws embolden Hindu nationalist groups to harass and attack Christian activites." Dr Murry
In states where anti-conversion laws have been passed recently, there has been a rapid increase of incidents of persecution against Christians. In recent years, Open Doors local partners have been made aware of churches being destroyed, Bibles and other Christian literature being confiscated and Christian gatherings being banned. Mobs have verbally and physically attacked believers, even disrupting burial services and marriage ceremonies. Believers face public humiliation, beating, and head shaving. Often these incidents are recorded and shared on social media – the attackers proud of the persecution. More insidiously, Open Doors partners believe that believers would be increasingly denied jobs, and even public burial.
Anti-conversion laws are also known to lead to churches shutting down, and believers being too fearful to share the gospel with others. Churches are spied on and, particularly if they are seen to be effective in telling others about Jesus, will receive false allegations of forced conversion. Experts believe persecution will be actively used to stop the church growing – even targeting efforts to help vulnerable people in India. There are, of course, many biblical commands to help the poor. But, as Murry explains, “Any church activities toward socio-economic upliftment of poor and marginalised people will also be perceived as luring for conversion.”
"Fanatics would persecute the Christians unchecked." Dr Murry
Already, there is a lack of police and government protection. “We’ve seen it happening that believers are mercilessly attacked with impunity as negligent police fail to provide protection to victims,” says Murry. “Fanatics would persecute the Christians unchecked. More often than not, officials side with the extremists who accuse believers of forceful conversion.
“These laws create a hostile and violent environment for religious minority communities because they do not require any evidence to support accusations of wrongdoing, and Christians are forced to spend huge amounts on litigation.”
India’s Christians know that prayer is the best way to combat the possibility of this oppressive law, and are urgently calling on their global family to join them in prayer. Please pray that authorities decide not to pass this law, and instead respect the constitutional right to freedom of religion or belief.
Continue praying, too, for the states with existing anti-conversion laws. “Every month, more than a hundred incidents of persecution are reported,” Murry shares. Ask our Father God to protect His children and His church from the violence and false allegations and pray that the Indian church will be able to stand firmly in faith.
Pray for wisdom and steadfastness for the Indian church, and pray that those who are monitoring their church activities will be thwarted in their plans and have ‘seeing eyes made blind’.
Pray for current cases against Christians, falsely accused of forced religious conversion. “Prosecutors are presenting false and misleading data against these minority communities to strengthen their case,” says Murry. Pray for the truth to prevail and for the Lord’s justice to be done.
Finally, Christmas celebrations are under threat with the latest developments against religious minorities emboldening local extremist groups to mob and attack Christians. “We have reason to believe that anti-Christian elements could run rampant this season, disturbing peaceful gatherings and Christmas celebrations.” Pray for peaceful Christmas gatherings in India, free from violence and fear.
Father God, we join with our brothers and sisters in India in calling for Your powerful hand over this nation. Please thwart those who seek to abuse and harass Christians, and please prevent a nationwide anti-conversion law from being passed. Give strength and comfort to all those currently facing false accusations. We ask for freedom for the church in India, and that more and more can hear the gospel and make the choice to follow Jesus. Amen.
A local Open Doors partner from India will be sharing her first-hand experiences of persecution at the World Watch List parliamentary launch on 18 January 2023. You can invite your MP to ensure they are equipped to tackle Christian persecution.
Your support helps persecuted Christians continue to courageously follow Jesus.
Together, we can reach those where persecution hits hardest.