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7/9/2024 India (International Christian Concern) — In an affidavit filed earlier this month before India’s Supreme Court, the northwestern state of Rajasthan indicated that it planned to introduce curbs on so-called forced conversions. Though the crime is nonexistent — only one person has ever been convicted of forced conversion despite thousands of charges over decades — the specter of forced conversions is a popular bugbear for Hindu nationalists who claim that religious minorities are forcibly converting Hindus to other faiths. 

The proposal in Rajasthan comes after the nationalist BJP party defeated the more secular Congress party in statewide elections last December. The BJP has pushed similar proposals in several other Indian states. Currently, 12 of India’s 28 states have such a law on the books: Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, and Uttar Pradesh. 

Written under the guise of protecting citizens from coercion, these laws criminalize conversions so broadly as to outlaw nearly all minority religious activity. In a typical example, Uttar Pradesh’s anti-conversion law outlaws “conversion from one religion to another by misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement, or by any fraudulent means.”  

Though international law would back this law up regarding its prohibition of force, the law’s definition of “allurement” is cripplingly broad and itself in tension with international law. Under the Uttar Pradesh law, allurement includes “the offer of any temptation,” including “gratification, easy money … free education in [a] reputed school run by any religious body… better lifestyle, [or] divine displeasure.” 

Under this definition, any religious activity could be considered an attempt at forced conversion. Even something as innocuous as explaining one’s view of divine pleasure and eternal reward is criminal under the statute. 

While these laws have their roots in early post-colonial India, afraid of Western colonists forcing their religion on Hindu Indians, the laws continue to spread decades later under the Modi administration — which came to power in 2014 — revealing that the concern behind these laws is less with colonists and more with preserving the Hindu-dominated status quo. 

In his March 2023 update on India’s anti-conversion laws, Luke Wilson, a researcher for the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), writes that “India’s enforcement of state-level anti-conversion laws suggests the legislations’ intent is to prevent conversions to disfavored religions — such as Christianity and Islam — and not to protect against coerced conversions.” 

ICC regularly witnesses how these anti-conversion laws make minority religious life in India difficult. We work with many pastors who have been by mobs during a church service because the singing and worship could lead a Hindu to convert to Christianity. Similar mob raids also happen outside of church services, sometimes targeting church community outreach programs like food or clothing distributions. 

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