09/20/2017 Washington D.C.
(International Christian Concern
) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that the Jharkhand Freedom of Religion Bill 2017 was given approval by the governor of India’s Jharkhand State on September 5, 2017. This approval came amidst strong resistance and protests by Christian groups, minorities, and other members of civil society in Jharkhand. To date, protest rallies across Jharkhand continue to draw large numbers as the effects of the bill have already been felt. According to local church leaders, several Christians were accused and sent to jail despite the fact that the bill has yet to become law.
Jharkhand Freedom of Religion Bill 2017, also known as the “Jharkhand Dharma Swatantra Adhiniyam,” was introduced and passed by the state legislative assembly on August 11, 2017. Section 3 of the bill states, “No person shall attempt to convert, either directly or otherwise, any person from one religion / religious faith to another by use of force or by allurement or by any fraudulent means, nor shall any person abet any such conversion.” Violation of Section 3 would lead to imprisonment of up to three years, a 50,000 INR fine (approximately $778.00 USD), or both. In cases where the violation involves a minor, a woman, or a person from the Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe communities, the prison term would be raised to four years and the fine would be raised to 100,000 INR (approximately $1,556.00 USD).
Similar laws, popularly known as “anti-forced conversion laws,” already exist in six other states in India, including Arunachal Pradesh, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat. In these states, Hindu radical groups abuse the vague terms of these laws to falsely accuse Christian leaders of forceful conversions.
“There is a danger to the social harmony in the state of Jharkhand,” Rev. Dr. Manmassih Ekka, a Christian leader from Jharkhand’s capital of Ranchi, told ICC. “The passage of the bill is clearly an attempt to polarize [the] tribal community by the ruling BJP.“
“We have already seen the aggression of the Hindu fundamentalists misusing the bill as four Christians were falsely charged under forcible conversions and were sent to jail in [the] Simdega district of Jharkhand,” Rev. Manmassih reported.
“We are asking the government to take back their decision in the interest of people of Jharkhand,” Rev. Manmassih continued. “On behalf of the All Church Committee of Ranchi, we are organizing a public meeting in Ranchi along with [other] progressive groups, including the Hindu community.“
Dr. John Dayal, a member of the National Integration Council for the Government of India, said, “The [bill] comes with the backdrop of a well-orchestrated demand, in fact a promise, by the ruling BJP [government], for similar national legislation. Such a promise was made by the Vice President of India, M. Venkaiah Naidu, when he was a Union Minister.“
William Stark, ICC’s Regional Manager, said, “To see another state in India pass and approve a Freedom of Religion bill is deeply disappointing. These laws are widely abused by Hindu radicals, both in states where they are officially law and even in states where they are not. Due to the legal ambiguity within the laws themselves, these laws provide an easy excuse for radicals to attack Christian leaders with impunity. One simply needs to claim that a pastor was forcefully converting an individual following an assault. As a result, instead of the pastor’s assailants being arrested, it’s the assailed pastor who is arrested by police following an attack. With attacks on Christians skyrocketing, the adoption of this law will only incite more violence and seems to be another step away from India enforcing religious freedom for all.“