INDIA: Madhya Pradesh also passes new anti-conversion law

By Nirmala Carvalho

 

Hindu nationalists in the state legislature voted the bill on 8 March as a gift to women. For the president of the Global Council of Indian Christians, the law “promotes hatred, divisions and tensions between different communities”, and endangers vulnerable minority Christians.

 

AsiaNews (09.03.2021) – https://bit.ly/3taFS0d – Another Indian state has passed an anti-conversion law. After Uttar Pradesh  and Uttarakhand, both ruled by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Madhya Pradesh yesterday became the third Indian state to pass such legislation.

 

This is causing great concern among Christians; the new law “promotes hatred, divisions and tensions between different communities within society,” said Sajan K. George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), speaking to AsiaNews.

 

The state’s Home Affairs Minister Narottam Mishra officially introduced the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Bill 2021 on 1 March to replace an ordinance in force since 9 January. The bill was voted yesterday. BJP state legislators called it a gift for women on their day.

 

“Under the new bill, forcing religious conversion on someone will attract one to five years of imprisonment and a minimum Rs 25,000 fine (US$ 350),” said Narottam Mishra. “Forced conversion of a minor, a woman or a person from a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe would draw a minimum jail term of two to10 years with a minimum penalty of Rs 50,000 (US$ 700).”

 

“In secular India, it is absolutely inconsistent for a state to indicate which religion a person can follow or who they can marry,” said George.

 

“The Indian constitution is secular. There is no state religion and this law is a flagrant violation of personal freedoms,” he added.

 

“The right to freedom of religion in Article 25 to practise, profess and propagate a religion is part of the guarantees enshrined in the constitution.”

 

Anti-conversion laws, ironically called ‘Freedom of Religion’ laws, have existed in Indian states for a long time, the first one in Odisha (formerly Orissa).

 

According to data collected by the police in Madhya Pradesh, since the Ordinance came into effect on 9 January, “of the 23 cases, at least half of them concern Christians,” George explained. “All of them are fabricated cases of conversion. Vigilante groups attack, intimidate, even disrupt family gatherings under the guise of conversion activities.”

 

For George, nationalist right-wing groups enjoy tacit state approval. “They endanger lives among vulnerable minority Christians with violence.”

 

“The theory of conversions is widespread in the country even though the majority group still represents  80 per cent of society”.

 

Photo : AsiaNews




INDIA: Hindutva, the political ideology that puts Christians under suspicion

Vijayesh Lal, leader of the Evangelical Fellowship of India, says Christians are making a difference in times of Covid-19: “Local churches are providing relief to their neighbouring communities”.

 

 

Evangelical Focus (22.02.2021) – https://bit.ly/2ZHAXqS –  In recent years, India has become one of the most dangerous countries for religious minorities, which continuously suffer violence, intimidation, harassment, police impunity, and even murder.

“Democracy is being challenged to a greater degree today in India, freedom of expression is under threat, human rights and freedom of religion, specially for minorities like Christians and Muslims, are also being challenged”, said pastor Vijayesh Lal, General Secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI), in an interview for the podcast Didomi.

According to Lal, the current situation has worsened because “the last year has seen many states coming up with their anti-conversion laws. Ironically, some are titled Freedom of Religion Acts, but they actually restrict freedom of religion”.

“They are very strict, put into question every conversion per se, they see every conversion with suspicion until it is proved that is genuine, and the burden of proof lies on the one who has been accused”, underlined the EFI General Secretary.

Hindutva and violence against Christians

Twice a year, the Religious Liberty Commission of the EFI releases its report Hate and Targeted Violence against Christians. It began “in the late 1990s, when the whole conversion propaganda against the church in India started. Since the, we have advocate for religious freedom, documenting cases of atrocities against religious minorities”.

“At the beginning, the cases we reported were around 100-150. Since 2014, cases have been rising, reaching 366 in 2019 and 327 in 2020. Just in the first month of 2021, we have already recorded 29”, pointed out Lal.

The EFI General Secretary explained that the violence against religious minorities “comes from a political ideology called Hindutva, which is not to be confused with Hinduism, because Hinduism is a religion, and Hindutva strives for political control and it is based on exclusion”.

“It has connections with the Nazis. The heads of this ideology are currently on power in India. It started in the 1920s. However, I have not doubt that the ideology of Hindutva will eventually fail, because it is essentially against the character of India”, he added.

“I pray for more understanding from the international community”

The EFI General Secretary also lamented that “the world knows that Muslims have been targeted in India, but there is little understanding about how Christians are being targeted

“I hope and pray for more understanding from the international community, that they will be aware of the persecution and they will use their voice to ask the Indian government to take steps to protect the religious minorities, Christians included”, he stressed.

“Covid-19 has been an opportunity for the church”

The coronavirus pandemic has severely hit India, however, “even in the midst of persecution, the church in India continues to give, and Covid-19 has been an opportunity to show, love, compassion and the values of the Kingdom”, said Lal.

“I do not know of any local church or denomination that has not gone out to provide relief to its neighbouring community. We are not going to stop, we do this because we love Christ and we also love our people”, concluded the EFI General Secretary.

Photo : New Delhi, India. / Sergio Capuzzimati, Unsplash CC0.




INDIA: Indian government rules out national anti-conversion law

Christian leaders want all eight Indian states to repeal their anti-conversion laws to ensure religious freedom

UCA News reporter, New Delhi – (03.02.2021) – https://bit.ly/2N1Lt9q – The Indian government, run by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has ruled out the possibility of a nationwide law regulating religious conversions, bringing cheer to Christian leaders.

G. Kishan Reddy, a junior minister in the Ministry of Home Affairs, told parliament that the government plans no national law against conversions, ending speculation that Prime Minister Narendra Modi plans such a law targeting Christians and Muslims.

“Prosecution of offenses related to religious conversions is primarily the concerns of state governments and union (federal) territory administrations,” Reddy told the national parliament on Feb. 2.

Christian leaders, who welcomed the assurance, also appealed to the government to repeal anti-conversion laws in eight states.

“Any anti-conversion law is against the constitution,” said Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Pamplany, a member of the Office of the Doctrine of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI).

“Any law made against the spirit of the constitution cannot be justified. The constitution has guaranteed people to choose and practice whatever religion one wishes to,” he told UCA News on Feb. 3.

The minister’s statement came in response to questions from five parliamentarians from Kerala state in southern India who wanted to know if the government believed forced conversions were taking place in the country because of interfaith marriages.

They also sought to know if the government was planning any law to curb conversions by interfaith marriages.

Under the Indian constitution, “public order and police” are under each state’s domain, the minister said. Therefore, “prevention, detection, registration, investigation and prosecution of offenses related to religious conversions are primarily the concerns of the state governments.”

The demand for a nationwide anti-conversion law to regulate interfaith marriages came after governments in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh states, both run by the BJP, enacted separate anti-conversion laws to check religious conversion through interreligious marriages.

Bishop Pamplany said these laws were superfluous.

The governments are enacting anti-conversion laws under the pretext of checking conversion by allurement or force, but they actually target religious minorities, said Bishop Pamplany, who is also the chairman of the media commission of Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council (KCBC).

He said the Indian penal code has enough provisions to deal with allurement and force, “and there is no need for any special laws.”

“The federal government is in the right direction in this announcement. It is in tune with the constitution, and the Church appreciates it,” said the auxiliary bishop of Tellicherry Diocese in Kerala.

“We have come across gross misuse of anti-conversion laws in states where they exist. They are also deliberately used to target the minorities, including Christians and their institutions.”

Bishop Pamplany wanted the federal government to take steps to repeal anti-conversion laws. “No doubt the federal government has done the right thing, and we appreciate it,” he said.

Shibu Thomas, the founder of Persecution Relief, a forum that records Christian persecution in India, also appreciated the federal government announcement.

“We have been praying against such laws in the country, and God has heard our prayer,” Thomas told UCA News on Feb. 3.

He said Christians want all eight Indian states to repeal their anti-conversion laws “to ensure that no one is deprived of their constitutional right to choose one’s religion.”

“We don’t convert anyone as was being made out against us,” Thomas asserted.

Photo: Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Pamplany said any anti-conversion law is against the constitution. (Photo: UCA News)