INDIA: 12th state plans law to criminalize conversions

UCA News (23.06.2024) – Yet another Indian state has announced plans to enact a draconian anti-conversion law, which is often used to harass Christians in the country.

The pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in the northwestern state of Rajasthan disclosed its intent to curb religious conversions in an affidavit filed before the Supreme Court, the country’s top court, on June 18.

The affidavit was filed in response to a public interest litigation by Delhi-based lawyer and BJP Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay seeking stringent steps by federal and state governments to control fraudulent religious conversions, which he called “a nationwide problem.”

The petition alleged the involvement of Christians in fraudulent religious conversion.

Eleven Indian states, most of them ruled by the BJP, have enacted the draconian law, ironically named as freedom of religious acts.

But Rajasthan “lacks a specific legislation” to curb conversions, according to the affidavit filed by the state government.

After defeating the secular Congress party, the BJP formed a government in Rajasthan in December last year.

“There is no doubt enactment of an anti-conversion law will make Christians vulnerable to hardline Hindu groups,” said a Catholic priest based in Rajasthan.

According to Christian leaders, Hindu nationalist groups and activists may misuse the anti-conversion law to target them with impunity.

“Laws are made when there is a need for them. But in this case, there is no such need,” said A.C. Michael, a Catholic leader based in Delhi.

He told UCA News on June 19 that the top court should ask the state government to show clinching evidence of fraudulent religious conversions in the state.

Michael, a former member of the Delhi state minority commission, said that the proposed law “will only make the life of Christians difficult.”

Christians face severe atrocities in the neighboring state of Uttar Pradesh, ruled by the BJP.

The draconian anti-conversion law was first enforced as an ordinance in 2020 and adopted by the state assembly the following year as the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Act 2021.

Since the implementation of the law, close to 400 Christians, including Catholic priests and pastors, have been jailed in the state under the sweeping law.

“We cannot rule out a similar situation in our state,” said a priest attached to the Udainagar diocese in Rajasthan.

India’s top court is hearing public interest petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the anti-conversion laws passed by the states. However, the court has not stopped their implementation.

Further reading about FORB in India on HRWF website