Jharkhand, a state in northeastern India, has passed a bill forbidding religious conversions by coercion, fraud, or inducement. This bill is similar to laws in six other states across India criminalizing forced conversions. While these laws would seem to protect religious freedom, they often do the opposite. Hindu radicals across India use the legal ambiguity created by the laws to harass and attack Christian leaders seeking to spread the Gospel. If Jharkhand adopts this bill as law, it will almost certainly lead to more attacks on Christians.
08/16/2017 India (Christian Daily) – A state government in India has passed a contentious bill forbidding the coercion of conversion into another religion, which some say can be abused to harass religious minority groups.
The bill, known as the ‘Freedom of Religion Bill 2017,’ was passed by the Jharkhand Assembly on Saturday, and now will be sent for the governor’s approval.
Section 3 of the bill forbids the attempt to convert anyone “by use of force or by allurement or by any fraudulent means,” those who violate the bill could be required to pay a fine of 50,000 Rupees, be imprisoned for three years, or both. Minors, women, or people from the Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe could be required to pay a fine of up to 10,000 Rupees, be imprisoned for four years, or both.
Those who voluntarily wish to convert must first receive permission from the deputy commissioner, who would then investigate what the circumstances were surrounding the conversion, according to The Telegraph.
Six other states in India have similar laws, according to the International Christian Concern (ICC), a human rights group focusing on religious persecution. However, a lack of clarity on the definition of certain terms in the laws, such as “coercion” or “force” has led radical Hindu groups to abuse the laws against non-Hindu groups including Christians, the ICC said.
“Often, these laws provide an easy excuse for radicals to attack Christian leaders with impunity,” said William Stark, the regional manager for the ICC. “One simply needs to claim the pastor was forcefully converting an individual following an assault. As a result, instead of the pastor’s assailants being arrested, it’s the assailed pastor who is arrested by police following an attack.”
“With attacks on Christians skyrocketing, the adoption of a law that would only incite more violence seems to be another step away from India enforcing religious freedom for all,” Stark added.