Date: June 1, 2018
Christian Leaders Say Anti-Conversion Law Has Led to Increase in Harassment
06/01/2018 Washington, DC (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that at least 15 Christians in India’s northeastern state of Jharkhand have been falsely charged with forced conversions during the month of May. According to local Christians, this series of charges is a product of increased harassment experienced by the Christian community since Jharkhand passed the Jharkhand Freedom of Religion Act 2017.
On May 12, 11 Christians were charged under Section 4 of the Jharkhand Freedom of Religion Act 2017 after they gathered for prayer at a Christian home in Medhasai village, located in the Chaibasa District of Jharkhand. Susheela Barla, Manseed Kandulna, Sunil Horo, Jeevan Kandayaburu, Jone Suren, Mojes Gagarai, Sekindar Bading, Basanth Manji, Vijaya Thikki, Rajesh Kalkho, and Mothilal Ho were all charged of engaging in forced conversions (FIR no. 15/18) and have fled their homes fearing arrest.
On May 30, four more Christians, including two Christians youths to be married, were arrested for fraudulent conversion activities in Porker village, located in the Simdega District of Jharkhand. Rupesh Manji, age 24, and Sumanthi Kumari, age 20, were engaged to be married on May 30, but the local Sarna tribe opposed the wedding. When the young couple approached police for help, they were taken into custody and falsely charged under the Jharkhand Freedom of Religion Act 2017 (FIR no. 05/18). Two more Christians, Pastor Sudarshan Manji and Nilam Devi, were arrested along with the young couple.
“[These] anti-conversion laws, ironically titled freedom of religion laws, are actually aimed at taking away the freedom of religion and rights of tribal and other marginalized sections of the Indian society,” Rev. Vijayesh Lal, General Secretary Evangelical Fellowship of India, said in a press statement following the passage of the Jharkhand Freedom of Religion Act 2017.
Section 3 of the law states, “No person shall attempt to convert, either directly or otherwise, any person from one religious faith to another by use of force or by allurement or by any fraudulent means, nor shall any person abet any such conversion.”
Punishment under this bill includes imprisonment of up to three years, a fine of 50,000 Rupees, or both. Similar laws exist in seven other states in India and state governments have not defined the terms inducement, coercion, force, or fraud in the context of religious conversions. Due to this ambiguity, these laws are widely abused by Hindu radicals to harass and intimidate Christians while claiming to be operating under the auspices of state law.
Pastor Rajesh Bage, who serves as a pastor in Simdega District told ICC that the arrests of Christians have become more frequent since the Jharkhand Freedom of Religion Act 2017 became a law. “The latest arrests of four people in Porker village is the effect of the anti-conversion law that came into effect from last year August,” Pastor Bage told ICC.
Another Christian leader from Jharkhand, who wished to remain anonymous, said, “It is becoming more clear that the anti-conversion law was brought by the BJP to target Christians in the state. Hindu radicals are feeling empowered and enjoy a free hand to attack Christians. It is very unfortunate what is happening to Christians in Jharkhand.”
William Stark, ICC’s Regional Manager, said, “We here at International Christian Concern are deeply disappointed to see Christians in Jharkhand being harassed under the auspices of state law. These Freedom of Religion Laws are widely abused by Hindu radicals due to the ambiguity within the laws themselves. These laws provide an easy excuse for radicals to attack Christian leaders with impunity. Following an assault, one simply needs to claim the pastor was forcefully converting an individual. As a result, instead of the pastor’s assailants being arrested, it’s the assailed pastor who is arrested. With attacks on Christians skyrocketing, the adoption of a law that would only incite more violence seems to be another step away from India enforcing religious freedom for all.”