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Christians face rising hate as India’s anti-conversion laws unleash violence

Minority Christians face anti-conversion persecution in India. Picture: iStock.

Jenan Taylor

18 April 2023

Christians in India face mounting intolerance because of the country’s state-based anti-conversion laws, amid fears they will be implemented nationally.

Faith-based and human rights groups have reported an increase in anti-conversion violence against minority communities in India, including Christians and Muslims.

Open Doors Australia said its local partners received 600 reports of persecution incidents against Christians in the first three months of 2023, alone.

Communications specialist Jordan Scott said these were particularly from states where the anti-conversion laws were in play.

It comes as a senior political figure and proponent of the anti-conversion movement continues to push India’s Supreme Court for tough measures against conversions by coercion or deception, and a national roll out of the laws.  

Twelve of India’s 28 states have adopted the laws which give people the right to spread a religion, but not the right to convert by coercion, according to research body, the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada.

Critics believe the recent adoption by more states is politically motivated and reflects growing Hindu nationalism.

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An Indian representative from a non-government organisation expressed concerns about moves towards national anti-conversion laws.

The representative, who requested anonymity for fear of retribution, outlined the danger posed by the laws, and said how they were being interpreted and applied was a central problem.

She said the laws’ wording referred to forced conversion but didn’t define it.

She said because of that any action or service undertaken by someone from a Christian background or organisation could be viewed as a covert method to entice people to Christianity and therefore be viewed as forcing someone to change their beliefs.

That affected organisations who helped India’s most deprived communities, and the disadvantaged people themselves, the representative said.

She said many were from lower caste and tribal communities who resided in remote and hard to access areas, and that assistance for them ranged from providing microfinancing and resources such as goats to help them start a livelihood, to providing free medical treatment and equipment that they otherwise could not afford.

Misinformation about the services Christian organisations provided also led to allegations that they were forcing people to convert, the representative said.

She said hate speech narratives were widespread and were also being normalised and proliferated through some media outlets.

Her concerns were echoed in a recent letter from 93 senior retired civil servants to India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, about the harassment of Christians and the rise of hate speech.

They noted the contribution of Christians and Christian institutions to the country’s education, health and social reform sectors, including throughout the COVID pandemic, and that beneficiaries were from all faiths.

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But an Australian international development worker, who also asked to remain unnamed for fear of retribution, said whereas initially many faith-based and large, secular NGOs had been targeted, forcing them to reduce their services or even shut, harassment had stepped up to a new, personal level.

He said individuals accused of forced conversion activity were now being attacked and jailed, so they would try to avoid being taken into custody and potentially go on the run.

“If you get charged then you stay in jail until your case is heard, because it is, like murder, a non-bailable offence. That might only change if you are able to afford legal intervention and to pay a lawyer to help you get out on bail,” he said.

Ms Scott said the anti-conversion driven attacks against Christians could be particularly brutal and that the first one this year happened on 1 January when a church was torched.  

She also said people reported hearing a loud siren when they were arrested, such as those used to hunt down hardened criminals.

The siren provoked much fear and was sounded just before places of worship were surrounded by anti-conversion extremists.

“Every Christian in India, especially in those states with these anti conversion laws, knows that they could be arrested at any time, simply for preaching Jesus, even in the confines of their own church,” she said.

Ms Scott said Open Doors was working with local lawyers and advocates to help those being persecuted.

She said the international community could help through prayer and by supporting the organisation with its efforts to help Christians on the ground in India who were in trouble.

For more details visit opendoors.org.au

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