01/14/2021 India (International Christian Concern) – Last week, the state government of India’s Madhya Pradesh state enacted the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Ordinance, 2020. For many, the state’s new anti-conversion law is among the country’s strictest. According to Asia News, Christian leaders in Madhya Pradesh claim the law has been enacted to harass the state’s religious minorities.
On January 9, the anti-conversion ordinance was promulgated by the Governor of Madhya Pradesh, Anandiben Patel. The ordinance was approved by the Madhya Pradesh State Cabinet on December 26, 2020, with the intention to curb forcible or fraudulent religious conversions.
According to the ordinance, 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.
Speaking to Asia News, Archbishop Leo Cornelius of Bhopal said, “This goes against constitutional principles and freedoms, and is a plan to systematically harass minorities, especially Christians. This is not a new law; it has existed since 1968 and modified in 2006 and now they have tightened it up to make it more stringent.”
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.
“People has been accused, but none of this can be proven in court,” the Archbishop explained to Asia News. “For Christians in particular, if they gather for family or community prayers, where there is singing, etc. an extremist group can interrupt the prayers, which another goes to the police to file a case of fabricated conversions against Christians.”
According to the Archbishop, the new law is “completely against the constitutional guarantees of religious freedom in secular India.”