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ICC Note:

Recently, India’s Jharkhand State added an anti-forced conversion law to its penal code with the stated intent to stop religious conversions by coercion or allurement. This makes Jharkhand the seventh state to pass an anti-forced conversion law in India. Many Christians in Jharkhand have demonstrated against this law saying that it will be used specifically to target members of their community. Across India, Hindu radicals use the specter of mass conversions to Christianity as propaganda to isolate and then persecution the Christian community. When looking at India’s census data, this conspiracy of mass conversions doesn’t hold up and is exposed as just a lie to single out Christians and Muslims.  

09/23/2017 India (Scroll.in) – Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary-general of the Catholic Bishops Council of India, the apex body of Roman Catholics, recently appealed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to curb the “spread of hatred by [Jharkhand] Chief Minister Raghubar Das”. Mascarenhas pointed out that a manifestation of this hatred was the advertisement the Das government issued in August, accusing Christian missionaries of converting Dalits and Adivasis to Christianity.

The advertisement was published just before the state legislature adopted the Religious Freedom Bill, 2017, which prescribes stringent punishment to those convicted of using force or allurement to proselytize people. It is hard to tell whether hatred motivates Das, but he is undeniably paranoid about Christians and Muslims outstripping Hindus in Jharkhand, which, according to the 2011 Census, is nowhere near facing such a threat.

Christians account for just 4.3% of Jharkhand’s population, Muslims 14.53% and Hindus 67.83%, according to the Census. If the figure for Hindus is relatively low in comparison to many states, it is because 12.84% of the state’s population counted themselves as followers of “Other Religions”, an omnibus category of local faiths in the Census.

In Jharkhand, followers of “Other Religions” are primarily those of the Sarna faith, who worship nature. For long, they have been campaigning to have Sarna assigned a separate code during the Census so that it is recognized as a distinct religion, instead of being subsumed in the category of “Other Religions.”

Despite Jharkhand having a minority population of 31.67% (including Muslims, Christians and Other Religions), Hinduism is the majority religion in 19 out of 24 districts of the state. Only Simdega is a Christian majority district, with 51.4% of the population following that faith. But Simdega is also the third least populated district. Topping the list of least populated districts are Lohardaga and Khunti, both of which have Hindus in the minority. None of these three districts has a population of over six lakhs. In addition, Hindus are also in the minority in Gumla and Paschimi Singhbhum, both of which have a population of over 1 crore each.

Indeed, the outcry against missionaries is just propaganda designed, as Mascarenhas pointed out, to mobilize people for the Hindutva cause. The mobilization is based on spreading hatred against Christian missionaries and dividing Adivasis on the basis of their faith. It also prevents Adivasi assertion, required to ensure they do not unite to oppose mines, the setting up of factories and exploitation of forests. As the only party to bait religious minorities, the Bharatiya Janata Party hopes to gain from the polarization between Christian Adivasis and those who have been Hinduised or follow local faiths.

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