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ICC Note: Christians in India’s Arunachal Pradesh state were pleasantly surprised when the Chief Minister announced plans to repeals the state’s Freedom of Religious Act, more commonly known as an anti-conversion law. In sharp contrast to its name, the law places heavy restrictions on religious conversions and often targets Christians leaders. Across India, Hindu radicals misuse these laws and falsely accuse Christians of engaging in forced conversions.

07/02/2018 India (World Watch Monitor) – Christian groups have welcomed a surprise announcement by a nationalist chief minister of a state in north-east India that he will ensure that a law preventing conversions from one faith to another is repealed.

Pema Khandu, a Buddhist who heads the nationalist BJP-led state government in Arunachal Pradesh, told an audience of more than 2,000 Catholics that he would have the 1978 Freedom of Religion Act repealed in the next session of the Legislative Assembly.

He said the law, which, in sharp contrast to its name, places heavy restrictions on religious conversions, “could undermine secularism and is probably targeted towards Christians”. (In India, talk of “secularism” relates to treating all religions with equal respect, rather than the separation of religion and politics.)

Khandu told the audience, which including nine Catholic bishops: “Though I have been told that the law has been never implemented … in future, it could be misused by a chief minister, chief secretary or DGP [director general of police].”

He added: “Any misuse of the law leading to the torture of people could trigger large-scale violence in the state and could break Arunachal into pieces.” Between the 1960s and 1980s some Christians in the state were subjected to torture, public beatings and detention, as their activity was resisted amid concerns of exploitation and the erosion of traditional cultures.

The 1978 act prohibits “conversion from one religious faith to any other … by use of force or inducement or by fraudulent means and for matters connected therewith”, and provides for imprisonment of up to two years and a fine of up to 10,000 rupees (US$150).

However, since its enactment the proportion of Christians in the state has shot up as thousands of followers of tribal religions embraced Christianity.

Khandu’s announcement was met by thunderous applause from the audience. Taw Tebin, the president of Arunchal Pradesh Catholic Association, told World Watch Monitor: “This law has always remained a threat to the Christians. The declaration by the chief minister is a big relief for the Christian community.”

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