Christians in India’s Haryana State Concerned by Potential Anti-Conversion Law
By ICC’s India Correspondent
07/30/2020 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – On June 16, Manohar Lal Khattar, the Chief Minister of India’s Haryana state, announced his intention to propose the addition of a Freedom of Religion Act to his state’s legal code. According to similar acts, religious conversions would be regulated by the state government, and forced religious conversions would be criminalized. If passed, Haryana would be the ninth state in India to adopt a Freedom of Religion Act, more commonly referred to as an anti-conversion law.
For Christians living in Haryana, Khattar’s announcement left them very concerned. In other states where anti-conversion laws are enforced, radical Hindu nationalists abuse these laws to justify their attacks on Christians and their places of worship.
“There is a growing sense of fear and intimidation in the state,” Pastor Vineoy, head pastor of an independent ministry in Haryana, recently told International Christian Concern (ICC). “Threats from religious fanatics are common for pastors serving in rural villages. A majority suffers silently, and nobody comes to their aid, not even local authorities.”
Pastor Vineoy’s concern is that the passage of the proposed anti-conversion law will provide legal cover to radical nationalists already persecuting Haryana’s Christian community.
“My wife and I could have been killed on that day,” Pastor Tommy Joseph, an Assemblies of God pastor from Haryana, told ICC. On June 14, two days before Khattar announced the proposed anti-conversion law, Pastor Joseph and his wife were brutally attacked by radical nationalists.
“I have been visiting this village for eleven years, and there was no problem,” Pastor Joseph told ICC. “We were about to leave one of our church member’s homes when more than 400 people gathered in front of the house. I heard people saying that I should be shot and I saw several people holding iron rods and other weapons.”
“I thought to myself that this was the end of my life,” Pastor Joseph continued. “They punched me, beat me, and told me I had to ask for forgiveness for going to that village.”
The radicals then chased Pastor Joseph and his wife as they escaped the village on their scooter. This incident has left Pastor Joseph shaken and concerned for the wellbeing of the church member he left behind.
“I know we will not be able to visit that village again,” Pastor Joseph said. “I am not even sure of the fate of the church member in that village.”
“The attack on me appears to have some connection with the activities building up to the anti-conversion law’s announcement,” Pastor Joseph explained.
On June 21, a week after Khattar announced the potential anti-conversion law, radical Hindu nationalists broke into an under-construction Assemblies of God Church in Faridabad and forcibly installed a Hindu idol. Nationalists claimed that a Hindu temple had existed on the same site as the church. Counter to this claim, the church had functioned in that location for 15 years, and the church purchased the land from the previous owner, who occupied it for 47 years.
Fortunately, on June 27, around 100 police personnel arrived at the Assembly of God Church and removed the idol without any opposition a week after its forcible installation.
In states where anti-conversion laws are currently enacted, including Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Uttrakhand, they are widely abused. Radical nationalists falsely accused Christian leaders and evangelists of forcefully converting individuals to Christianity to justify harassment and assault. Local police often overlook this harassment due to the false accusation of forced conversions.
To date, many Christians have been arrested under forced conversion accusations, but no individual has been convicted of forced conversions in India. This is in spite of the fact that some of the state-level anti-conversion laws have been on the books since 1967.
For many Christians in Haryana, the potential of this law being adopted by their state government has them deeply concerned. If Haryana approves the law proposed by Khattar, it will likely provide a new layer of legal cover for radical Hindu nationalists to attack and terrorize the state’s Christian population.