Indian State Passes Anti-Conversion Bill That Could Land Christians in Prison for Preaching the Gospel

Photo by Ibrahim Rifath on Unsplash

Another Indian state has passed a so-called “anti-conversion” law that makes it illegal to “force” religious conversions and that could effectively make it a crime to preach the Gospel to someone who then converts to the faith.

The Karnataka state’s upper house passed its “Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill,” which supporters say would confront the purportedly ongoing issue of “mass conversions with allurements through force,” as NDTV reported.

However, opponents say similar laws enable Christians and other religious minorities to be persecuted.

As The Christian Post notes, similar laws in other Indian states state that no one may use the “threat” of “divine displeasure” to convince others to convert religions, meaning that Christians run afoul of state law by preaching of heaven and hell when sharing the Gospel.

Attacks on Christians have increased in a number of Indian states as the Hindu nationalist majority party advocates for legislation restricting conversions, partly aimed at curbing so-called “love jihad” on the part of Indian Muslims, when Hindus convert to Islam to marry a Muslim.

The Karnataka law comes just days after India’s Supreme Court issued a directive to the state and seven other states to verify claims made by Christian groups seeking protection in light of the roughly 200 attacks reported in the first five months of this year.

We have reported on a number of incidents of attacks against Christians in India over the last year, including mobs attacking churches, a Christian couple arrested for praying with a man whose entire family died of COVID-19, and a teenager who was killed in an acid attack.

“The persecution of Christians in India is intensifying as Hindu extremists aim to cleanse the country of their presence and influence,” Open Doors USA says of the increased threats against Christians. “The driving force behind this is Hindutva, an ideology that disregards Indian Christians and other religious minorities as true Indians because they have allegiances that lie outside India, and asserts the country should be purified of their presence.”

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom has recommended that India be designated a Country of Particular Concern since 2020 “due to the Indian government’s promotion of Hindu nationalism, and engagement and facilitation of systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom,” as its website states.

The Karnataka law has been condemned by Christian advocacy groups like International Christian Concern.

“This action is another stark reminder of the extremist course that the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] continues to chart for the people of India,” said Matias Perttula, ICC’s Director of Advocacy. “The reality of these anti-conversion laws is that they continue to make life difficult for Christians and other religious minorities throughout India. We’ve seen a dramatic rise in persecution because of these laws as they only embolden fanatical Hindu nationalists to run with complete impunity against Christians. It seems that Prime Minister Modi and the BJP will stop at nothing to suppress the freedom of religion in India.”

NDTV reported that the bill “proposes an imprisonment from three to five years with a fine of ₹ 25,000, while for violation of provisions with respect to minors, women, SC/ST, the offenders will face imprisonment from three to ten years and a fine of not less than ₹ 50,000.”

“The bill also makes provisions for the accused to pay up to ₹ five lakh as compensation to those who were made to convert, and with regards to cases of mass conversion there shall be a 3 to 10 year jail term and a fine of up to ₹ one lakh.”

The law also “mandates that persons who wish to convert to another faith shall give a declaration in a prescribed format at least 30 days in advance to the District Magistrate or the Additional District Magistrate specially authorised by the District Magistrate in this regard of his residing district or place of birth within the state.”

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