Anti-conversion laws will not help India

By Rev. Dr. Joseph D’souza

Early this month, the state government in Jharkhand, northern India, introduced a new Freedom of Religion Bill.

At first glance, the name of this bill suggests an important step forward in human rights for India, but it’s actually the opposite. The bill is a cleverly disguised anti-conversion law, and it’s not the first to be introduced in the country.

Despite the fact that the Indian constitution clearly defines and protects the freedom to practice and propagate religion, radical members of both national parties — Congress and the BJP — have already managed to pass anti-conversion laws in the states of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Arunachal Pradesh.

When the new bill passes in Jharkhand — a draft has already been approved by the Cabinet — anyone found guilty of the vague crime of converting people could be sentenced to a minimum three years in jail.

Barring the general justification that these laws are intended to protect vulnerable people from fraudulent conversion through “allurement” or “coercion,” there’s no doubt the primary suspects and assumed perpetrators are Christians. Implicit in the anti-conversion laws is the assumption that there’s a foreign Christian agenda to convert Indians and that the tribals and Dalits — also known as “untouchables” — are especially susceptible to conversion schemes.

Perhaps the anti-conversion laws stem out of a suspicion against Christianity based on the history of colonial British rule; or perhaps they’re fueled out of a fear that religion will split the country, as it did during the India-Pakistan partition.

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