The Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP)-led government in the Jharkhand state in east of India, gave its nod to a draft of the anti-conversion bill on 1 August 2017. The bill is likely to be tabled at the legislative assembly in the Monsoon Session which to begins on 8 August 2017.
The bill titled “Jharkhand Freedom of Religion Act 2017″ prohibits religious conversions through force, fraud and allurement.
Christian leaders and organisations argue that ‘anti-conversion’ laws foster hate against minority communities and lead to persecution of Christians in all of the states which currently have these laws.
A copy of the bill has been made available to Global Christian News by the Evangelical Fellowship of India. The draft says that “the government was receiving information from various sources in various rural and urban districts, about conversion activity being done through force, fraud and allurement. Hence to stop the said ‘conversion activity’ it has become a must that a legislation prohibiting conversion through force, fraud and allurement is brought forth so that anti-social and selfish elements may not take advantage of poor, illiterate villagers as well as weaker sections of the society and so that all may be free to practice their faith according to their will.” (translated)
The draft also says that “the legislation will help in maintaining peace and law and order and will foil attempts of anti-social elements that seek to create unnecessary tensions in the society.” [translated]
Section 3 of the draft says that “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 the terms of the above section shall invite imprisonment up to three years or Rupees 50,000 or both. In case the violation involves a minor, a woman or a person from the Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe, the prison term would be up to four years and the penalty would go up to Rupees 1 lakh.
Section 5 of the draft also makes prior permission mandatory for conversion and demands that the person who converts any other person from one religion / religious faith to another, either by performing the ceremony himself for such conversion as a religious priest or takes part directly or indirectly in such ceremony shall take prior permission for such proposed conversion from the District Magistrate by applying in such form as may be prescribed by rules.
The draft also demands that the convert intimates the District Magistrate of the District in which the conversion ceremony has taken place of the fact of such conversion “within such period and such form as may be prescribed by the rule.”
Failure to comply with the provisions of Section 5 of the draft will invite imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or with fine which may extend to five thousand or both.
The present situation
At present anti-conversion laws are in force in five states of India. They are: Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat.
If the bill becomes a law, which in all probability it would, Jharkhand would be the sixth state to have an anti-conversion law.
The move by the Jharkhand government does not come as a surprise for this has been a poll promise by the BJP and was a long standing and outspoken agenda of the Raghubar Das led BJP government in the state. Even though Chief Minister Das does not have an Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) background, he has been very vocal against Christians in the state of Jharkhand.
In April 2015, while inaugurating a RSS ‘cultural center’ in Daltonganj, the Chief Minister had praised RSS and had said, “RSS is the only organisation in the country that can give a befitting reply to the separatist forces present outside the country who want to turn India into a ‘Christian state’,” (http://www.hindustantimes.com/ranchi/rss-is-answer-for-christian-forces-says-raghubar-das/story-0FVZpeNKTfNtB3gdRcUChK.html)
RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) is an “Indian right-wing, Hindu nationalist, paramilitary volunteer organisation that is widely regarded as the parent organisation of the ruling party of India, the Bharatiya Janata Party.” It has “historical links to Nazism and Fascism” and senior leaders of the RSS in its early days “had direct links to both Benito Mussolini in Italy and Adolf Hitler in Germany.”
Reaction of Christian organizations
The Evangelical Fellowship of India in a release on 2 August 2017 said that the draft bill comes in the “backdrop of a well-orchestrated demand, in fact a promise, by the ruling BJP, for a national legislation. This will go against not just Constitutional guarantees of freedom of faith for citizens who profess religions other than Hinduism, but will also violate the federal structure in which law and order is a state subject.”
The Reverend Vijayesh Lal, General Secretary of EFI said, “The anti-conversion laws have brought India unnecessary opprobrium internationally. Anti-conversion laws are routinely listed as the negative practices of the Indian system, in review of our Human Rights record at various international fora. As with the anti-Dalit Christian laws, the so called anti-conversion laws, ironically titled freedom of religion laws, are actually aimed at taking away the freedom of religion and rights of Tribals and other marginalized sections of the Indian society.”
He said that, “Christians organizations have often pointed out that such laws, and the impunity they generate, have been used to wreak violence on pastors, Nuns, and Church-run educational and religious institutions throughout the country. They are sometimes deemed to be in force in states where they actually do not exist.”
The EFI release titled “Jharkhand Bill ignores Himachal Lesson“ also stated that, “The government has also not been able to adduce any proof or evidence over half a century of aggressive implementation of such laws, of any forcible conversions by Christians against whom such laws are essentially targeted. There are hardly any convictions in courts to sustain police and political allegations of forcible and fraudulent conversions. As a matter of fact, the Himachal Pradesh High Court, a few years ago, struck down efforts by the government to force prior approval, after the Evangelical Fellowship of India moved a petition along with other parties.”
Veteran Human Rights Activist and Spokesperson of the United Christian Forum, Dr. John Dayal told Global Christian News, “More than these bills, I am deeply concerned at the targeted violence that is generated because political, civil and subordinate judicial structures presume that there already is some national legislation of this nature. The immunity from law exercised by Sangh (RSS) leaders, and the sense of impunity that exists in the land, aggravate the situation.”
Christianity has been present in the region now for 170 plus years, even before Jharkhand was carved out of Bihar on 15 November 2000 and even before Bihar itself was carved out of Bengal Presidency on 22 March 1912.
Christians constitute 4.3% of the total population of Jharkhand state according to 2011 census of India.