India’s Gujarat State Passes New Anti-Conversion Law
BJP-Led Government Tightens Restrictions on Religious Conversions
04/06/2021 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) learned that the Bharathiya Janatha Party (BJP) led government of Gujarat has passed a new law regulating religious conversions and criminalizing forced religious conversions. The new law amends the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act 2003 and has been championed by local BJP politicians as the state’s ‘Love Jihad’ law.
On April 1, the anti-conversion law, entitled the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act 2021, was passed by Gujarat’s Legislative Assembly. The new law has amended Gujarat’s original anti-conversion law by criminalizing marriages done for the sole purpose of religious conversions and defining fraudulent allurements as promises of a better lifestyle, divine blessings, or impersonation.
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 will also need to inform the district administration 60 days in advance. If the previsions of the law are not followed, violators could face a sentence of three to five years in jail and a financial penalty of 50,000 rupees.
The law also criminalizes forceful religious conversions with a jail term of three to ten years and fine of 500,000 rupees. The law specifically criminalized marriages done solely for the purpose of religious conversion and expanded the definition of what is considered illegal allurement when identifying forced religious conversions.
“Gujarat has done it once again,” Father Cedric Parkash, a human right activist, told local media. “The additional amendments to the already draconian law of 2003 enhanced its unconstitutionality. Such an unconstitutional law should be withdrawn immediately.”
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, Madhya Pradesh, 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 Gujarat pass this expanded anti-conversion law. Similar laws are widely abused by radical Hindu nationalists due to their legal ambiguity. Ultimately, anti-conversion laws provide legal cover for radical 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 the expanded definition of allurement, it is hard to see how one could share their faith without risking legal consequences. With attacks on Indian Christians and other minorities continuing to escalate, the passage of another anti-conversion ordinance will only incite more religiously motivated violence.”
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