Indian Christians Attacked Following Rumors of National Anti-Conversion Bill
By ICC’s India Correspondent
09/06/2019 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – A new wave of religious violence against Christians has swept over northern India in recent weeks. According to local Christians, this new hate campaign started after Zee News, a media outlet in India, reported that the BJP-led government intends to propose a bill that would make religious conversion illegal nationwide in the next session of parliament.
“We are already feeling the heat of the news that the government is preparing to bring a national anti-conversion law,” a Christian leader from Chhattisgarh, who requested to remain anonymous, told International Christian Concern (ICC). “Just the media reports are enough for the radicals on the ground to be more aggressive.”
“We already have a similar law in our state,” the Christian leader continued. “Christians in Chhattisgarh are already paying heavily as a consequence. However, the proposal of a national law that prevents religious conversion gives the hardliners the idea that a ‘Hindu Rastra’ is to be established.”
Out of India’s 29 states, anti-conversation laws, officially called Freedom of Religion Acts, are currently enacted in eight states. This includes Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand, and Himachal Pradesh. In these states, Christians report that the laws are widely abused.
According to these reports of abuse, radical nationalists falsely accusing Christians of forcefully converting individuals to Christianity to justify harassment and assault. Local police often overlook violence perpetrated against Christians because radicals use the allegation of forced conversion to justify their actions.
Recently, Pastor Mohan Massih, a resident of Ghaziabad, located in Uttar Pradesh, fell victim to this cycle of violence and impunity.
“I was praying in my house with two other people when suddenly a group of people chanting Hindu slogans burst into my home,” Pastor Massih told ICC. “They beat us all before they handed us over to police.”
“I was praying in my house with two other people when suddenly a group of people chanting Hindu slogans burst into my home. They beat us all before they handed us over to police.”
To justify their actions, the extremists told the police that Pastor Massih was conducting forced conversions. However, Uttar Pradesh has not enacted an anti-conversion law, so the police charged Pastor Massih with committing blasphemy under IPC Section 295-A instead. Pastor Massih then spent the next 18 days in jail and was released on bail on August 27.
“They accused that I was involved in forcible conversions,” Pastor Massih explained to ICC. “However, the IPC sections that I was charged under do not correspond.”
Pastor Massih leads a small Christian congregation of 50 Christians in Ghaziabad. To support his ministry, he also works as a part-time rickshaw puller.
In the past three months, ICC has documented 29 incidents of religious violence against Christians in Uttar Pradesh alone. Similar to Pastor Massih, false allegations of forced conversions have been used by radicals to justify physical assaults, the closure of churches, and the general harassment of Christian leaders.
On September 1, Pastor Balram was similarly attacked by radicals in Gyanpur, located in the Kheri district of Uttar Pradesh. While leading Sunday worship, Pastor Balram was dragged out of the church, had his shirt torn open, and was beaten ruthlessly by radicals in the presence of police.
Pastor Balram and two other church members were then taken into police custody after they were accused of engaging in forced conversions. Similar to Pastor Massih’s case, police charged the Christians with blasphemy under IPC Section 295-A.
The news that the BJP-led government intends to propose a national anti-conversion law and the violence that has followed has many Christians across India concerned. Radical Hindu nationalists frequently use the specter of mass religious conversions to pass laws and regulations that limit religious freedom. According to these nationalists, Indian Christians are accused of converting poor Hindus to Christianity in mass by fraudulent means.
However, India’s own population data does not support this conspiracy of mass conversions to Christianity. In 1951, the first census after independence, Christians made up 2.3% of India’s population. According to the 2011 census, the most recent census data available, Christians still make up 2.3% of the population.
While many Christians have been accused of engaging in forced conversions, no one has been convicted of forced conversions in India. This is in spite of the fact that some of the anti-conversion laws have been on the books since 1967.
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