Indian state's new bill could put anyone in jail for praying for others' healing

Tuesday 24 September 2019
India's Himachal Pradesh state has passed a new bill against 'forced conversion' which requires anyone seeking to convert to another religion to give a month's notice to the district magistrate stating they are doing so by their own will.

Anti-conversion laws were already in force in seven states: Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Gujarat and Uttarakhand. Hindu radicals are calling to impose the anti-conversion legislation at the national level. 

The priest performing a conversion ceremony will also have to give a month's notice. People who reconvert to their original religion are exempted from this requirement.

The bill prohibits the "offer of any temptation in the form of any gift or gratification or material benefit, either in cash or employment, free education in a reputed school run by any religious body, easy money, better lifestyle, divine pleasure or otherwise."

However, local Christians fear that the new law will be largely misused. An Open Doors local partner said: "This now means that anyone praying for others' healing will be accused as someone who is enticing people by offering them a better lifestyle, divine pleasure or otherwise."

The new bill proposes seven years of jail for forced conversions, while the existing 2006 Freedom of Religion Act, which the new bill seeks to revoke, was proposing three years.

The bill also states that any person or organisation violating the provisions will not be allowed to accept donations or any kind of contributions from within or outside the country.

In India anti-conversion laws are gaining in popularity because it is believed that forced or induced conversions happen and need to be prevented.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Home Affairs has introduced new rules for all officials and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), receiving foreign funds. They will now have to declare to the authorities that they have not been prosecuted or convicted of converting anyone from one religion to another. India's Christians fear that these rules will target all Christian NGOs. It is expected that they will be investigated more often and asked to stop all activities related to Christianity and, if that did not work, they could be falsely accused and forced to shut down. 

India is number 10 on the 2019 World Watch List, Open Doors' annual ranking of the 50 countries where Christians face the most extreme persecution.

Sixty-four million Christians live in India which is less than five per cent of the population. In a country with a total population of 1.3 billion, they make up a tiny minority. In rural areas Christians are often very isolated. Christians in India face high levels of violence from extremists, with thousands of attacks taking place every year.

Photos courtesy of Open Doors.

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