03/29/2021 India (International Christian Concern) – According to The Indian Express, India’s Gujarat state is likely to become the latest state to expand their controversial anti-conversion law. According to a recently proposed bill, promises of a better lifestyle, divine blessings, and marriages done for the purpose of religious conversion would be illegal.
Recently, Gujarat’s BJP-led government proposed a bill that would amend the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act passed in 2003. The new bill would consider promises of a better lifestyle and divine blessings as illegal allurement towards religious conversion. The new bill would also make marriages for the purpose of religious conversion illegal.
The bill, proposed by Pradeepsinh Jadeja, Gujarat’s Minister of State for Home, will likely be considered in the ongoing Assembly session and would provide a maximum imprisonment of up to 10 years and a fine of 500,000 rupees.
In recent months, BJP controlled states across India have amended or enacted similar anti-conversion laws. Purportedly enacted to protect religious freedom, these laws empower state governments to monitor and approve all religious conversions.
In most cases, individuals seeking to change their religion would need to provide government officials with notice of their decision to convert. The circumstances of the conversion would then be investigated and approved before it could be made official.
The anti-conversion laws also criminalize fraudulent religious conversions. The laws loosely define fraudulent religious conversion as conversions done by force, fraud, or allurement. A recent trend has also added religious conversions done for the sake of marriage to what is defined as fraudulent.
Radical Hindu nationalists use the specter of mass religious conversions to Christianity and Islam as justification to pass anti-conversion laws. 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 anti-conversion laws are currently enacted, including Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya 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.