Indian state laws make converting to Christianity increasingly dangerous

Last week, two Bibles for Mideast pastors were attacked by Hindu radicals in north India. The pastors, both converts from Hinduism, led a house church in the region. A group of people entered the church, demanding they discontinue all meetings and services.  The pastors refused, so two days later were brutally attacked. Pastor Stephen of Bibles for Mideast reports that the local government and police apparently fully supported the attackers.

India’s governing party, the BJP, continues to push forward in its stated Hindutva ideology, or the 'Hinduisation' of India. With power at both national and state levels, their philosophy basically holds that the nation can be cohesive and workable only by maintaining the beliefs, tenets and culture of one religion—Hinduism.

The Indian state of Jharkhand just last week joined five other states (Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat) in passing an anti-conversion law.

While dubbed the ‘Religious Freedom Bill 2017’, it is anything but. The new law bans people from attempting to convert others "by use of force or by allurement or by any fraudulent means," with punishments including fines of up to 100,000 rupees (US$1,600) and four years in prison. It also states that a person converting willingly must give Jharkhand’s Deputy Commissioner details of the time, place and name of the person administering the conversion.

"This is very unfortunate for the people of Jharkhand," said the Rev. Dr. Man Maish Ekka, a member of the Jharkhand Sadbhavana Munch, a local religious freedom forum. "This is not just an attack on Christians, but is an attack on the religious freedom that the constitution gives to the very citizens of this country.”

  The Indian government’s pro-Hindu stance has left it unwilling to tackle Hindu extremism     [Photograph: Str/AFP/Getty Images]

The Indian government’s pro-Hindu stance has left it unwilling to tackle Hindu extremism   [Photograph: Str/AFP/Getty Images]

William Stark of International Christian Concern pointed out that Hindu radicals have taken advantage of similar laws in other states to harass and intimidate the country's minority Christian population.

"These laws are widely abused by Hindu radicals due to the legal ambiguity within the laws themselves. Often, these laws provide an easy excuse for radicals to attack Christian leaders with impunity. One simply needs to claim the pastor was forcefully converting an individual following an assault,” Stark explained.

"As a result, instead of the pastor's assailants being arrested, it's the assailed pastor who is arrested by police following an attack.”

As this ministry and many others have experienced and reported, harassment and threats on Christians in India in the first six months of 2017 have been the highest since the country’s independence (report on increasing persecution of Christians in India from Open Doors USA here). Extremists have tortured and killed believers and vandalized and demolished churches, some from Bibles for Mideast.

The anti-conversion laws of course make it extremely difficult and dangerous to talk about and share the Christian faith.

“It's based on the idea that conversion by force should be made illegal,” pointed out Andrew Boyd of Release International.  “I think everyone would agree that conversion by force would be useless."

"But actually, if you preach about heaven, then it's considered to be bribery. If you speak about hell, it's considered to be a threat. If you offer any kind of Christian charity, then it's regarded also as bribery.”

In many of the places Bibles for Mideast missionaries live and work, severe persecution from both Muslims and Hindus remains an increasingly harsh reality.

Please pray for all of our pastors, missionaries, churches and believers. As regular visitors to this site would know, Pastor Paul, director of Bibles for Mideast, has himself been the victim of threats and assaults by both Hindu and Muslim extremists. He is still recovering from a stoning attack which happened several months ago in a country neighboring India (URGENT call to fast and pray for Pastor Paul, director of Bibles for Mideast). He continues to improve and hopes to be back working in several weeks.