Archbishop in India Describes Challenge of Living Under Anti-Conversion Laws
As Hindu nationalists call for a national anti-conversion law that will stop Hindus from converting to minority faiths like Christianity and Islam, the Archbishop of Gujarat describes the struggles his church faces living under a state anti-conversion law. Essentially, the anti-conversion law in Gujarat State make it illegal to convert from Hinduism to Christianity without government permission. The same rule doesn’t apply for Christians converting to Hinduism, which on its face shows a clear bias. Many Christians are concern that the introduction of a national anti-conversion law will only increase intolerance against Christians and will increase the number of attacks on Christians and their places of worship. Unfortunately, this concern has been proven true with anti-conversion laws that have already been approved at the state level.
12/10/2015 India (Asia News) – The task “Christ has given us is to go among the people and put ourselves at the service of others. However, serving others has become a challenge. The Church in Gujarat needs to do its work in caring for the poor, the marginalized and the oppressed. It has to give itself to the people it works for,” said Mgr. Thomas Ignatius Macwan, archbishop of Gandhinagar, as he reflected upon the rigid anti-conversion law in force in the state. The latter prevents Hindus from converting to another religion without a judge’s permission.
“We must be able to carry out our ministry with the firm knowledge that the Lord is with us,” the prelate said. To this effect, “We are looking for a way to resolve the issue. Jesus is mercy and the Year of Mercy speaks to the core values of the Gospel, the Church and its mission. We seek justice for everyone but, as Pope Francis reminds us, justice is only the beginning. The real goal is mercy.”
Speaking of the current challenges the Church faces in the state, the archbishop noted, “We are free to celebrate our functions without restrictions. Even government officials are very helpful to us. Year after year, we have opened many religious places in Gujarat, which has four dioceses. Here the Church is thriving.”
However, freedom of worship is not enough. “Difficulties arise in the case of the baptism of catechumens,” he explained, “because the draconian laws passed by the then government of Narendra Modi prevent us from welcoming the newly baptized into our communities, unless a judge gives his consent.”
An anti-conversion law is in force in Gujarat that is a real “attack on religious freedom.” Approved in 2003 when Modi was the state’s chief minister, and amended in 2006 to add more restrictive provisions, the legislation is designed especially to prevent conversions from Hinduism to Christianity.
If a Hindu wants to become a Christian, he or she must ask a district magistrate for permission. Otherwise, the conversion is null and void. Police constantly monitor Christian institutions, going so far as to check baptismal records. No verification is done if people convert to Hinduism. Religious legislation goes against mercy.
“On the one hand, we have the Eucharistic Lord; on the other, we have the mission to serve the Lord through our poor brothers and sisters,” Mgr. Macwan said. “Mercy is seen in our actions of love towards the poor, the homeless, the sick. This Year of Mercy and the recent Eucharistic Congress encourage us to go into the world and love the poor and the needy with greater enthusiasm, for this is what the Lord wants.