Christians in India’s Haryana state concerned by potential anti-conversion law
On the 16th of June, Manohar Lal Khattar, the Chief Minister of India’s Haryana state, announced his intention to propose the addition of a Freedom of Religion Act to his state’s legal code. According to similar acts, religious conversions would be regulated by the state government, and forced religious conversions would be criminalised.
Khattar’s announcement left Christians living in Haryana very concerned. In other states where anti-conversion laws are enforced, radical Hindu nationalists abuse these laws to justify their attacks on Christians and their places of worship.
“There is a growing sense of fear and intimidation in the state,” Pastor Vineoy, head pastor of an independent ministry in Haryana, recently told International Christian Concern (ICC). “Threats from religious fanatics are common for pastors serving in rural villages. A majority suffers silently, and nobody comes to their aid, not even local authorities.”
Pastor Vineoy’s concern is that the passage of the proposed anti-conversion law will provide legal cover to radical nationalists already persecuting Haryana’s Christian community.
“My wife and I could have been killed on that day,” Pastor Tommy Joseph, an Assemblies of God pastor from Haryana, told ICC. On the 14th of June, two days before Khattar announced the proposed anti-conversion law, Pastor Joseph and his wife were brutally attacked by radical nationalists.
“I have been visiting this village for eleven years, and there was no problem,” Pastor Joseph told ICC. “We were about to leave one of our church member’s homes when more than four hundred people gathered in front of the house. I heard people saying that I should be shot and I saw several people holding iron rods and other weapons.”
The radicals then chased Pastor Joseph and his wife as they escaped the village on their scooter. This incident has left Pastor Joseph shaken and concerned for the wellbeing of the church member he left behind.
In states where anti-conversion laws are currently enacted, including Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Uttrakhand, they are widely abused. Radical nationalists falsely accused Christian leaders and evangelists of forcefully converting individuals to Christianity to justify harassment and assault. Local police often overlook this harassment due to the false accusation of forced conversions.
To date, many Christians have been arrested under forced conversion accusations, but no individual has been convicted of forced conversions in India. This is although some of the state-level anti-conversion laws have been on the books since 1967.
For many Christians in Haryana, the potential of this law being adopted by their state government has them deeply concerned. If Haryana approves the law proposed by Khattar, it will likely provide a new layer of legal cover for radical Hindu nationalists to attack and terrorize the state’s Christian population.