State Government in India Approves Harshest Anti-Conversion Law to Date
Lawmakers Claim Ordinance Is India’s Most Stringent Anti-Conversion Law
01/11/2021 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) learned that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government of Madhya Pradesh has approved an ordinance entitled The Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Ordinance 2020. The ordinance replaces the Madhya Pradesh’s Religious Freedom Act of 1968 and is considered by lawmakers to be the most stringent anti-conversion law in India.
On January 9, the anti-conversion ordinance was promulgated by the Governor of Madhya Pradesh, Anandiben Patel. The ordinance was approved by the Madhya Pradesh State Cabinet on December 26, 2020, with the intention to curb forcible or fraudulent religious conversions.
With the Madhya Pradesh Legislature not in session, the constitution gives the governor power to promulgate the ordinance, which will have the same effect as law. The ordinance will, however, only be valid for six months and will need to be confirmed by the Madhya Pradesh State Legislature when it reconvenes.
According to the ordinance, individuals seeking to change their religion will need to apply to the district administration 60 days in advance. Religious leaders facilitating religious conversions would also need to inform the district administration 60 days in advance. If the previsions of the ordinance are not followed individuals could face a sentence of three to five years in jail and a financial penalty of 50,000 rupees.
The ordinance also criminalizes forceful religious conversions with a jail term of one to five years’ imprisonment and fine of 25,000 rupees. Section 3 of the ordinance increases these punishments to two to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 50,000 rupees for individuals forcefully converting minors, women, or individuals belonging to a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe.
Radical Hindu nationalists use the specter of mass religious conversions to Christianity and Islam as justification to pass similar laws limiting religious freedom. According to these nationalists, Indian Christians and Muslims are accused of converting poor Hindus to Christianity and Islam in mass by fraudulent means.
In regards to Christianity, India’s own population data does not support this conspiracy. 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.
In states where similar anti-conversion laws are currently enacted, including Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttarakhand, they are widely abused. Radical nationalists falsely accuse Christians of forcefully converting individuals to Christianity to justify harassment and assault. Local police often overlook violence perpetrated against Christians due to false accusations of forced conversion.
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, said, “We here at International Christian Concern are deeply disappointed to see Madhya Pradesh approve this anti-conversion ordinance. Especially concerning is the pride with which lawmakers in Madhya Pradesh claim this new ordinance is the most stringent anti-conversion law in India. Similar laws are widely abused by radical Hindu nationalists due to their legal ambiguity. Ultimately, anti-conversion laws provide legal cover for nationalists to attack India’s Christians and Muslims with impunity. One simply needs to claim someone was engaged in forceful conversions to justify an assault. With attacks on Indian Christians and other minorities continuing to escalate, the approval of another anti-conversion ordinance will only incite more religiously motivated violence.”