Another state in India is fast-tracking anti-conversion laws, which are often used to harass and falsely accuse Christians in many parts of India.
Karnataka State is now India’s 11th state to implement anti-conversion laws, after the state governor signed an executive order to fast-track the bill on 17 May. In many parts of India, anti-conversion laws like this are abused to harass and falsely accuse Christians.
Like other similar laws, this bill purports to prevent forced conversion from Hinduism – by means of ‘coercion’, ‘allurement’, ‘force’ or ‘fraudulent means’. In practice, Indians who choose to convert to Christianity from Hinduism are often falsely accused of being paid to do so, and Christians who share the gospel are accused of using coercion.
Christians in the state are alarmed by the decision as attacks against believers, for their faith, are increasing in India – which is number 10 on the Open Doors World Watch List. “Levels of hostility have increased sharply since the state government started pushing for the anti-conversion law,” a local partner told Open Doors. “Disinformation and speech that incites violence and discrimination are fanning the flames.
"Levels of hostility have increased sharply since the state government started pushing for the anti-conversion law" Local Open Doors partner
“Attacks are fuelled by the spread of disinformation about ‘mass conversions’ taking place, but there is no data to back up the claims [of coerced conversions].” In Karnataka, just under two per cent of the population is Christian, according to India’s 2011 census, and this number has remained stable.
The Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill was passed by the State Assembly in December and was scheduled for discussion by the state’s legislative council, but the governing party said it wanted to skip this step because both the Assembly and Council have been suspended. Now the governor has approved the bill – despite Christian leaders meeting with him on 16 May, urging him not to do so – the Council has six months to consider it.
Anti-conversion laws are already implemented in ten of India’s states, but Karnataka's new bill has more severe sentences for offenders than in other states. The minimum punishment is three-five years in prison and a fine of 25,000 Indian rupees. The median average monthly salary in India is 16,000 rupees, and Christians often belong to the Dalit caste and are among the poorest in Indian society.
"Christians live under a cloud of fear" Local pastor
These laws don’t cover conversion to Hinduism, and mass-reconversion events (Ghar Wapsi) have been held to draw people back to the Hindu faith. Recently, in Chhattisgarh State, 5,000 people gathered for a rally organised by a Hindu right-wing group, to denounce Christian conversions. The main agenda of the rally was to amend the Indian constitution, stop reservations for converts and de-list the names of the converts from the tribal benefits and schemes.
“Hindu nationalists have been on a rampage, threatening the Christian community,” says a local pastor whose name is withheld for security concerns. “Pastors have been assaulted and falsely accused of enticing people to become Christians. Church meetings are labelled ‘conversion gatherings’ and attacked.
“Christians live under a cloud of fear – some have been ostracised by their communities, and churches have been vandalised and forced to close.”
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