Religious freedom is a fundamental right guaranteed to all Indian citizens by the country’s constitution and laws. However, the religious freedom rights of India’s religious minorities, including Christians, have been in severe decline since the political rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2014 and its enactment of the Hindutva ideology.
Since 2014, attacks on religious minorities have dramatically increased and policies have been enacted that curtail religious freedom. In 2020, the religious freedom situation in India deteriorated to such a degree that the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recommended India be designated a Country of Particular Concern (“CPC”), a designation reserved for the world’s worst violators of religious freedom.
State-based Freedom of Religion Acts, more popularly known as anti-conversion laws, are among the most sinister policies enacted by BJP-led governments that have increased hostility against India’s religious minorities. In the nine states that have enacted these laws, all of them led by the BJP, the laws have been used to spread disinformation about minorities and provide legal cover for radical Hindu nationalists and their activities.
On January 9, 2021, Madhya Pradesh became the latest state to enact an anti-conversion law. The enactment of this law unleashed a new wave of persecution for the state’s Christian minority.
International Christian Concern (ICC) studied the effects of the enactment of Madhya Pradesh’s anti-conversion law from January to June 2021. During this time, ICC documented the instances of persecution experienced by the state’s Christian community and the number of churches closed as a result. ICC also surveyed over 500 Christians regarding the enactment of the new anti-conversion law and its effects on their community.
Taken together, these bodies of evidence show the enactment of the anti-conversion law in Madhya Pradesh had a significantly negative effect on the state’s Christian community. The law dramatically increased the number of persecution incidents endured and led to an overall climate of fear for the state’s Christians.
Unfortunately, the enactment of other anti-conversion laws have had similar effects on Christian communities in other states. For this reason, the international community, including the United States of America, must be utilized international pressure to repeal these laws and advocate for the recovery of religious freedom in India.