Serving Persecuted Christians Worldwide - India steps up ‘anti-Christian’ laws in some states to prevent ‘magic healings’ and evangelism - Open Doors UK & Ireland
07 March 2024

India steps up ‘anti-Christian’ laws in some states to prevent ‘magic healings’ and evangelism

In various states in north east India, local authorities are introducing laws that will ban healing prayers and even Christian symbols in churches and schools. Violence also continues in Manipur and Assam. Please pray for believers in these regions – especially as the Indian elections approach. 

A rural scene in India (image illustrative)

“Please pray for the north eastern states in India – once a haven for Christians, they now stand endangered,” says Open Doors partner Lhing (image is illustrative)

When you pray for a friend to be healed, you probably have never worried about being arrested. That is no longer true for Christians in the north east Indian state Assam, where the local government has approved a controversial bill that prevents people from conducting faith healings. Offenders may be fined or imprisoned.  

According to The Hindu, “The bill includes several key sections for curbing inhuman, evil, or magical healing practices. Section 5 empowers the government to punish any act or promotion of such practices while Section 6 extends this to include imprisonment for a year, extendable up to three years, or a fine of ₹50,000, or both. For repeated offenses, the convicted could face up to five years in jail or a fine of ₹1 lakh, or both.”

“We have healing prayers like every other religion... We don’t do magic to heal people”President of The Assam Christian Forum

The Chief Minister of Assam says they want to ‘curb evangelism in Assam’, calling this new move ‘an important milestone’. However, local church leaders disagree, saying the bill is ‘misguided and misleading’.  

Prayer is ‘a compassionate response to human suffering’ 

“We don’t simply go around healing — it is part of our prayer,” says President of the Assam Christian Forum, John Moolachira. “We have healing prayers like every other religion — when sick people come, we pray for them; individually, or by asking them to stand together in a group. We don’t do magic to heal people. Why the government is making it illegal and punishable is what we don’t understand.”  

In a statement, The Assam Christian Forum said: “Healing, in our context, is not synonymous with proselytisation. It is a compassionate response to human suffering, irrespective of religious affiliations.” The statement goes on to say that prayer is a universal practice across religions, and that the Indian constitution guarantees the right to practise one’s chosen religion.  

Open Doors local partner Anjali Lhing* states, “This bill has threatened the mission workers and Christian community, providing the religious groups an opportunity to generate false allegations against the Christians and institutions. The bill specifically targets the Christian community in Assam. It is also seen as a threat to bring in the anti-conversion law, post general elections.”  

Christian schools given ultimatum to remove religious symbols  

Earlier in February, Christian institutes, churches and schools in the north east were given an ultimatum of 15 days to remove Christian elements. A Hindu nationalist group from Assam posted signs demanding that crosses, as well as images of Jesus and Mary, be removed.  

“Students’ minds are polluted and misled against minority religions” Anjali Lhing, local Open Doors partner

“Christian missionaries are converting schools and educational institutes into religious institutes. We will not allow it,” Satya Ranjan Borah, president of the Hindu nationalist group responsible for the charge, told UCAN.  

If they fail to comply with these demands, the schools will face direct consequences. Borah mentioned that they also want priests and nuns serving in Christian schools to stop wearing cassocks and observing religious practices like prayer on school campuses. He accused them of promoting Christianity in schools through the display of such Christian symbols.   

Lhing continues to express her concern: “It is disheartening to see the conditions of the educational system currently. The school is not a religious playground. Religious radicals are saffronising (a policy approach in India that tries to implement a Hindu nationalist agenda) the syllabus by criticising minority religions and favouring Hinduism in the education system. Students’ minds are polluted and misled against minority religions. A wave of religious intolerance can be seen in most of the north eastern states.”  

Schools are appealing to the police for protection as religious fanatics are posing threats to the institutions.  

Chhattisgarh State introduces heavier punishments for ‘forced conversion’ 

Assam is not the only state cracking down on Christians. In Chhattisgarh, central India, the government announced its intention to table a new bill, which makes the forced conversion of minors, women and persons belonging to a tribal community a crime, punishable with fines and a prison sentence of up to ten years.  

This bill will introduce heavier punishments to Chhattisgarh’s existing anti-conversion law. However, none of this applies to those who reconvert back to Hinduism (called ‘ghar wapsi’, or ‘homecoming’). 

Christians are concerned about the proposed bill. “It will cause a rise in attacks on Christians and churches,” said one local Open Doors partner. “Churches will be closed down, marriage and burial ceremonies will be affected, and Christian institutions will be highly vulnerable to attacks and scrutiny. Pastors and leaders will be at high risk of being imprisoned on false charges of alluring people to convert to Christianity.” 

“Pastors and leaders will be at high risk of being imprisoned on false charges” Local Open Doors partner

“The lack of proper definitions of the offences in the bill makes it susceptible to misuse,” adds Lisa, an Open Doors spokesperson. “Chhattisgarh has a sizeable tribal population and the current state government has also proposed delisting tribals from their Scheduled status (reserved for the most socially and economically disadvantaged groups, granting them access to certain benefits) if they convert to Islam or Christianity. If this were to come to pass, tribal people who have converted to Christianity will lose all their socio-economic protections guaranteed under the constitution. These laws and proposals are being used to target minorities by Hindutva extremist groups who are free to act with impunity.” 

Although Christians only make up five per cent of the country’s population, anti-conversion laws have been implemented in 12 states where they’ve been abused to target religious minorities like Christians and Muslims. So far, only a few people have been convicted under these laws. 

A case challenging the validity of the anti-conversion laws under India’s Constitution is currently before the Supreme Court. 

Violence continues in the north east  

Alongside these new laws being considered and implemented, violent encounters are also continuing in Manipur and Assam.  

On 13 February, firing between the Kuki and Meitei communities caused three deaths and seven people were injured in Manipur. Intermittent gunfights had been reported every day on the border of the Meitei and Kuki communities. Of the three individuals who were killed, two were identified as Christians, and of the seven injured, four were also believers.  

“Amidst these discouraging moments, God’s work will carry on when the body of Christ prays together” Anjali Lhing

In another incident, Assam Rifles, a paramilitary force responsible for maintaining law and order, were given a ‘shoot at sight’ order which led to more than three dead and hundreds injured in more clashes between the Kuki and Meitei tribes. 

“The situation continues to be tense, and there seems to be no breather for peace,” says Lhing. “Please pray for the north eastern states in India – once a haven for Christians, they now stand endangered with constant news of violence, attacks and objectionable laws and policies introduced against the Christian community. Religious intolerance is being experienced after the pro-Hindu government has come to power in most of the states. Still, we believe that amidst these discouraging moments, God’s work will carry on when the body of Christ prays together.”  

*Names changed for security reasons 

Please pray
  • That God will comfort and strengthen Christians in Assam, Manipur and Chhattisgarh and give them wisdom
  • That God will thwart the plans of Hindu extremists and prevent these new bills from coming to pass
  • For the church in India to continue to be a source of light and love in the nation.
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