12/22/2021 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led government of India’s Karnataka state has proposed the enactment of a controversial anti-conversion law. The Karnataka Right to Freedom of Religion Bill, 2021, was introduced to the Legislative Assembly yesterday, December 21, amid protests by Christians, civil society, and opposition political parties. If passed, the bill would become one of the strictest anti-conversion laws in India.
For months, BJP politicians in Karnataka called for the enactment of an anti-conversion law, citing false anti-Christian narratives as justification. According to the provisions of the bill, individuals wanting to change their religion must seek government permission 60 days in advance. District magistrates or other authorized state government officials will then investigate the proposed conversion to ensure it is taking place without any force, coercion, undue influence, or allurement.
The bill also criminalizes what it terms forced religious conversions. This includes conversions done through misrepresentation, force, fraud, undue influence, coercion, allurement, or marriage. Individuals caught in violation of the proposed law could face a 10-year prison sentence and a fine of 100,000 Rupees (approximately $1,300 USD).
“The bill that Karnataka tabled today is one of the harshest among similar laws,” Dr. John Dayal, a prominent Christian activist in India, told ICC. “The major concern is the bill’s provision to jail those who indulge in mass conversions for a term from three to 10 years.”
“The law is nothing but a weapon in the hands of hate mobs,” a local pastor from Karnataka, who wished to remain anonymous, told ICC. “This is a legal cover for those who harass and intimidate Christians.”
Radical Hindu nationalists often use the specter of mass religious conversions to Christianity and Islam as justification to pass laws limiting religious freedom. According to these nationalists, Indian Christians and Muslims are converting poor Hindus to Christianity and Islam en masse by fraudulent means.
In regards to Christianity, India’s own population data does not support this conspiracy. In 1951, the first census after independence, Christians made up 2.3% of India’s population. According to the 2011 census, the most recent census data available, Christians still make up 2.3% of the population.
In states where similar anti-conversion laws are currently enacted, including Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttarakhand, they are widely abused. Radical Hindu nationalists falsely accuse Christians of forcefully converting individuals to Christianity to justify harassment and assault. Local police often overlook violence perpetrated against Christians due to false accusations of forced conversion.
To date, no individual has been convicted of forced conversions in India. This is in spite of the fact that some of the anti-conversion laws have been on the books since 1967.
William Stark, ICC’s Regional Manager for South Asia, said, “We here at International Christian Concern are deeply concerned by the likely enactment of another anti-conversion law in India. These laws are widely abused and often serve as legal cover for extremists seeking to carry out violence against Christians and other minority communities. One simply needs to claim that someone was engaged in forceful conversions to justify an assault. With attacks on Indian Christians and other minorities continuing to escalate, the approval of another anti-conversion ordinance will only incite more religiously motivated violence.”
SOURCE International Christian Concern