12/22/2020 India (International Christian Concern) – In November 2020, India’s Uttar Pradesh state enacted a controversial anti-conversion law through an ordinance approved by the state’s governor. Entitled the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020, the law was championed by Uttar Pradesh’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in an attempt to stop what it viewed as widespread illegal religious conversions.
According to the latest reports, four other BJP-ruled states in India are preparing to bring similar anti-conversion laws. These states include Haryana, Karnataka, Assam, and Madhya Pradesh.
On November 24, the Uttar Pradesh State Cabinet, presided over by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, approved a draft ordinance intended to curb forcible or dishonest religious conversions. With the Uttar Pradesh State Legislature not in session, the constitution gives the governor power to promulgate an ordinance which has the same effect as a law passed by the legislature. The ordinance, which was approved by the Governor of Uttar Pradesh on November 28, is valid for six months and will need to be confirmed by the Uttar Pradesh State Legislature when it reconvenes.
According to the text of the ordinance, forceful religious conversions will be punished by a jail term of one to five years and a fine of 15,000 rupees (approximately $203.00). However, forceful religious conversions of minors, women, or members of low caste communities will be punished by jail term of three to ten years and a fine of 25,000 rupees (approximately $339.00).
Prior to the approval of the ordinance, Chief Minister Adityanath promoted the conspiratorial narrative of ‘love jihad’ in the media as a justification for the ordinance. According to this narrative, large numbers of Hindu women are being tricked into converting to Islam by Muslim men through marriage. The ordinance specifically makes marriages done for the purpose of religious conversion illegal.
Several arrests have already been made by police in Uttar Pradesh under the new anti-conversion law. The latest charge being brought against a family of six Muslims from Etah, Uttar Pradesh.
Citizens for Justice and Peace, a Gujarat-based human rights group, has challenged the new law in Uttar Pradesh along with the Uttarkhand Freedom of Religion Act, 2018, which criminalizes religious conversions in India’s Uttarkhand state. According to Citizens for Justice and Peace, the laws violate Article 25 of India’s Constitutions which guarantees religious freedom to all citizens.
Historically, radical Hindu nationalists have used the specter of mass religious conversions to Christianity as justification to pass laws limiting religious freedom. According to these nationalists, Indian Christians are accused of converting poor Hindus to Christianity in mass by fraudulent means.
However, 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 Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttrakhand, they are widely abused. Radical nationalists abuse these laws by falsely accusing Christians of forcefully converting individuals to Christianity to justify harassment and assault. Local police often overlook violence perpetrated against Christians due to the false accusation of forced conversions.
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.