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Indian Governor Blocks Anti-Conversion Bill

Gospel for Asia
10/19/07 INDIA (ANS) — Another Indian state governor is attempting to block proposed amendments designed to make existing anti-conversion legislation even more stringent. Chhattisgarh Governor S.S.L. Narasimhan has voiced his opposition on two amendments proposed by the state assembly. The first would require a person who wants to change his religion to report those intentions to government officials at least 30 days in advance. The government would then have the right to grant or deny the request. Narasimhan also opposes another clause in the amendment which exempts people from the law if they are reverting from Christianity or Islam back to their native religion.

By God’s grace, Gospel for Asia missionaries are able to continue planting churches in Chhattisgarh, where harsh anti-conversion laws are on the books.

Rajasthan state Governor Prathibha Patil also refused to sign an anti-conversion law created by the anti-Christian extremist political party in her state’s assembly earlier this year.

The anti-Christian party in Chhattisgarh, which holds a majority of seats in the state’s legislative body, proposed the amendments to that state’s anti-conversion law in August 2006. The amendments target religious conversions classified as occurring by force or allurement.

The amendments propose fines of up to 2,000 rupees (US $50.98) and three years in jail for anyone found guilty of changing his or her faith without permission from the government. The person who led them to the new faith would be subject to the same punishment.

Rather than sign the bill, Narasimhan sent it to India’s attorney general for a legal opinion. The attorney general recently disapproved of legislators attempts to make similar amendments to the anti-conversion law in Madhya Pradesh.
The proposed amendments propose fines of up to 2,000 rupees (US $50.98) and three years in jail for anyone found guilty of changing his or her faith without permission from the government. The person who led them to the new faith would be subject to the same punishment.

Christians and Muslims in Chhattisgarh—and throughout India—say the bill violates the Indian Constitution’s religious freedom clause. The anti-Christian extremists claim that the law would prevent missionaries from bribing poor tribal and low-caste Indians from leaving their traditional faiths to embrace Christianity.

Several states in India have anti-conversion bills, called “freedom of religion” acts by the legislators who create them. Chhattisgarh’s law has been in effect since 1968, when the state was part of neighboring Madhya Pradesh. Madhya Pradesh and Orissa were the first two states to implement and enforce anti-conversion laws.

The ruling assemblies in Arunachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat have also approved anti-conversion legislation, but none of the states have begun to implement the laws.

Tamil Nadu repealed its anti-conversion law in 2006.

Christians make up less than one percent of the nearly 21 million residents of Chhattisgarh. Gospel for Asia missionaries have been working in the state since 1995. During that time, they have planted several churches and started a Bible school to train new missionaries. The state also has an active film ministry and provides for the needs of families through several Bridge of Hope centers.

GFA leaders in Chhattisgarh ask for prayer that the anti-conversion legislation would be overruled and that missionaries would be allowed to freely preach the Gospel without fear.