India: Another state to adopt the anti-conversion law
The north Indian state of Haryana might become the ninth state to adopt legislation which criminalizes forced conversion, the so called ‘anti-conversion law’.
The state’s chief minister, Manohar Lal Khattar, said the Right to Freedom of Religion Bill is necessary in light of reported cases of forced conversions.
He said citizens have the right to change religion but not if it is through fraud, force or allurement. He also announced the establishment of a board to protect Hindu religious assets in areas where Hindus are in the minority. This was said in light of improving social harmony.
The state’s legislators would also strengthen laws that protect cows, which Hindus regard as sacred. In recent years ‘cow vigilantism’ has been on the increase, with radical Hindu groups attacking individuals, mostly Muslims, for allegedly killing a cow.
According to the 2011 census, Haryana’s population is majority-Hindu (87.46%) with Muslims (7.03%) and Christians (0.20%) among the minority groups.
“State anti-conversion laws were (first) introduced to minimize fraudulent, forced, or the use of coercive inducement for, religious conversions,” according to a 2019 Open Doors’ report. “Despite this stated purpose… little to no evidence exists that religious minorities use these methods to convert individuals. Instead, anti-conversion laws are abused to marginalize the religious minority communities.”
Anti-conversion laws are in place in nine of India’s 29 states: Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand.
Only last week, Christians in the eastern state of Jharkhand were accused of using the COVID-19 lock down to ramp up conversion activities. “We have received several reports that conversions have gone up during the lockdown. We are collecting evidence in each of the cases,” Virendra Vimal, president of the right-wing group Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) in Jharkhand, told journalists on June 14. Jharkhand’s Christians make up 4.3% of the population which is majority Hindu (67.83%).
“The group accusing us of conversion has no proof to back their allegation”, Father Anand David Xalxo, a tribal priest, told UCAN. “Since they failed to help the poor during this difficult time, they are offended when the Church is involved with relief work wholeheartedly… As the VHP claims that it does [help the poor], then let them prove it. Instead of false accusations, they should work at the grassroots level”, he said.
India is 10th on the Open Doors World Watch List of 50 countries where it is most difficult to live as a Christian since 2019.
We discussed religious persecution in India on the latest episode of the World Watch Weekly podcast.