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03/10/2021 India (International Christian Concern) – On Monday, March 8, the Legislative Assembly of Madhya Pradesh passed the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Bill, 2021. The new anti-conversion law replaced an ordinance by the same name promulgated on January 9.

According to the law, 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 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.

Since the enactment of the anti-conversion ordinance in January, Christians in Madhya Pradesh have endured a surge of persecution. International Christian Concern (ICC) has documented at least 48 incidents of Christian persecution in Madhya Pradesh since the enactment of the ordinance. These incidents include physical assaults, false criminal allegations, intimidations, and the closure of churches.

Many Christians in Madhya Pradesh fear that the approval of the anti-conversion law will only further embolden radical Hindu nationalists and lead to more attacks on their community.

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