Should India pass an anti-conversion law

India: Madhya Pradesh state government passes toughest anti-conversion law yet

01/11/2021 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) - International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that the government of Madhya Pradesh, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has passed an ordinance entitled The Madhya Pradesh Freedom Ordinance 2020. The ordinance replaces the Madhya Pradesh Religious Freedom Act of 1968 and is considered by lawmakers to be the strictest anti-conversion law in India.

On January 9th, the anti-conversion ordinance was promulgated by Madhya Pradesh Governor Anandiben Patel. The ordinance was passed by the Madhya Pradesh State Cabinet on December 26, 2020 with the intention of curbing violent or fraudulent religious conversions.

Since the Madhya Pradesh legislature is not in session, the constitution gives the governor the power to issue the ordinance, which will have the same effect as a law. However, the ordinance will only be valid for six months and will need to be ratified by the Madhya Pradesh state legislature when it meets again.

According to the regulation, people who want to change their religion must apply to the district administration 60 days in advance. Religious leaders who facilitate religious conversions must also notify the district administration 60 days in advance. Failure to comply with the ordinance can result in a three to five year prison term and a fine of 50,000 rupees.

The ordinance also criminalizes violent religious conversion with a prison sentence of one to five years and a fine of 25,000 rupees. Section 3 of the regulation increases these sentences to two to ten years imprisonment and a fine of 50,000 rupees for persons who are minors, women or persons belonging to a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe, convert by force.

Radical Hindu nationalists use the specter of mass religious conversions to Christianity and Islam as a justification for passing similar laws restricting religious freedom. According to these nationalists, Indian Christians and Muslims are accused of fraudulently converting poor Hindus to Christianity and Islam en masse.

As for Christianity, India's own population data do not support this alleged conspiracy. In 1951, the first census after independence, Christians made up 2.3% of India's population. According to the 2011 census, the latest available census data, Christians still make up 2.3% of the population.

They are widely abused in states where similar anti-conversion laws are currently in place, including Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttarakhand. Radical nationalists falsely accuse Christians of forcibly converting people to Christianity to justify harassment and assault. Local police often overlook violence against Christians on false allegations of forced conversion.

To date, no person has been convicted of forced conversion in India. Even though some of the anti-conversion laws have been in place since 1967.