Christians Fear India’s New Law Raising Punishments for Forced Religious Conversions Will be Used by Hindus to Harass Them

A protester holds a placard during a rally by hundreds of Christians against recent attacks on churches nationwide, in Mumbai, February 9, 2015. Five churches in the Indian capital New Delhi have reported incidents of arson, vandalism and burglary. The latest was reported last week when an individual stole ceremonial items. | (Photo: Reuters/Danish Siddiqui)

A state in India has passed a new law broadening the definition of illegal conversion and creating stiffer penalties for those accused of forced conversion. Critics fear the update to the so-called religious freedom law will be used by Hindus to further harass Christians. 

The Freedom of Religion Act 2019 was unanimously approved in a voice vote by the legislature in the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh on Aug 30. The state Legislature is led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, according to The Hindu.

The bill raises the maximum punishment for violating the forced religious conversion law from three years in prison to seven. It replaces the state’s Freedom of Religion Act of 2006, which banned religious conversion as a result of force or inducement.

The new law extends the definition of forced religious conversion to include conversion that takes place as a result of misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, inducement, marriage, or other fraudulent means.

Himachal Pradesh is one of seven states in India that have forced religious conversion laws. Critics say these laws are often abused by Hindu radicals to persecute Christians and other religious minorities.

Across the country, examples of abuse of the law have been seen in the arrests of Christians escorting children to summer camps and the arrests of Christian pastors during worship services.

“The previous 2006 law provided for a maximum of [three] years in prison for those who broke the rules,” Sajan K George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians, told the Catholic news agency Asia News. “The new law contains some terms that were absent in the past, such as coercion, misrepresentation, marriage, excessive influence. Section 5 of the law declares marriage to be null and void if was done for the sole purpose of conversion.”

George warned that “anti-conversion laws discriminate against religious minorities” and are used as a “tool to harass vulnerable Christians.”

“They can plant seeds of sectarian suspicion among communities that have lived together in a peaceful manner and can be used against the weakest in society, in particular Dalits, women and children,” George stressed.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Samuel Smith