Anti-Conversion Ordinance Approved in India’s Uttar Pradesh
Minorities Fear Escalation in Religiously Motivated Violence
12/10/2020 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government of Uttar Pradesh has approved the “Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance.” The ordinance has the same legal effect as Freedom of Religion Acts, popularly referred to as anti-conversion laws, enforced in eight of India’s 29 states.
On November 24, the Uttar Pradesh State Cabinet, presided over by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, approved a draft ordinance intended to curb forcible or dishonest religious conversions. With the Uttar Pradesh State Legislature not in session, the constitution gives the governor power to promulgate an ordinance which has the same effect as a law passed by the legislature. The ordinance, which was approved by the Governor of Uttar Pradesh on November 28, is valid for six months and will need to be confirmed by the Uttar Pradesh State Legislature when it reconvenes.
According to the text of the ordinance, forceful religious conversions will be punished by a jail term of one to five years and a fine of 15,000 rupees (approximately $203 USD). However, forceful religious conversions of minors, women, or members of low caste communities will be punished by a jail term of three to 10 years and a fine of 25,000 rupees (approximately $339 USD).
Prior to the approval of the ordinance, Chief Minister Adityanath promoted the conspiratorial narrative of ‘love jihad’ in the media as a justification for the ordinance. According to this narrative, large numbers of Hindu women are being tricked into converting to Islam by Muslim men through marriage. The ordinance specifically designates marriages done for the purpose of religious conversion as illegal.
Historically, radical Hindu nationalists have used the specter of mass religious conversions to Christianity as justification to pass similar laws limiting religious freedom. According to these nationalists, Indian Christians are converting poor Hindus to Christianity en masse by fraudulent means.
However, India’s own population data does not support this conspiracy. In 1951, the first census after the nation gained its 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.
In states where similar anti-conversion laws are currently enacted, including Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttarakhand, the laws are widely abused. Radical nationalists abuse these laws by falsely accusing Christians of forcefully converting individuals to Christianity to justify harassment and assault. Local police often overlook violence perpetrated against Christians due to the false accusation of forced conversions.
“This law will further empower the police and the thugs,” Dr. John Dayal told ICC. “Even before this ordinance was approved, the police force of Uttar Pradesh seemed to believe that an anti-conversion law already existed on the books.”
To date, no individual 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.
William Stark, ICC’s Regional Manager for South Asia, said, “We here at International Christian Concern are deeply disappointed to see Uttar Pradesh approve this anti-conversion ordinance. Similar laws are widely abused by radical Hindu nationalists due to their legal ambiguity. Often, these laws provide justification for nationalists to attack Christian leaders with impunity. One simply needs to claim that a pastor was engaged in forceful conversions to justify an assault. With attacks on Indian Christians and other minorities continuing to escalate, the approval of an anti-conversion ordinance in India’s most populous state will only incite more religiously motivated violence.”