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02/11/2021 India (International Christian Concern) – According to the Hindustan Times, 28 people, the majority of them Christian, have been arrested and charged under India’s newest anti-conversion law.

On January 9, the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Ordinance, popularly know as an anti-conversion law, was enacted by the Madhya Pradesh state government. Since then, Christian residents of Madhya Pradesh have reported a dramatic escalation in persecution and harassment from radical Hindu nationalists using the new law as a legal cover for persecution.

Among the 28 people arrested under the new anti-conversion law is Chhatar Singh Katre, a teacher from a small village school in Madhya Pradesh. The Hindustan Times reports Katre organized a pray meeting on January 27 to celebrate the admission of his daughter to college.

Before the meeting began, however, police arrived and arrested Katre and two other Christians. All three were charged with violating the new anti-conversion law for luring and coercing people into changing their religion. All three Christians remain in jail and have had their bail petitions rejected by the Balaghat sessions court.

My father organized the meeting for me and now he is in jail for no reason,” Kalyani Katre, Katre’s daughter, told the Hindustan Times. “The case was registered against him and two others on the complain of a person who was booked 10 years ago for assaulting and harassing my father and others for participating in a religious program.

According to the Hindustan Times, 28 people have been booked under the new anti-conversion law since it was enacted on January 9. Data shows that eight cases in total have been registered, four against nine Muslims and another four against 19 Christians.

According to the anti-conversion law, individuals seeking to change their religion 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 ten 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 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.

For interviews, contact Alison Garcia: [email protected].