The Legislative Assembly of the South Indian state of Karnataka has passed a law that criminalises religious conversions through force, fraud or allurement. It is the tenth state in India so to do. Penalties range from fines of £250–£300 to prison for three to ten years.
Some suggest the legislation is to curb Muslim organisations who lure non-Muslim girls to marry Muslim men and oblige the bride to convert to Islam.
More than 40 civil society and religious groups in Bangalore, home to many Christian churches, organisations and seminaries have taken to the streets to protest that the Bill trampled on their constitutionally guaranteed rights to freedom of religion, privacy and dignity.
A report of the protest noted that ‘providing homes for children and the homeless, giving fee scholarships for school children and providing free medical care or at concessional rates can all be considered as inducements to conversion and render their providers liable to prosecution. One Christian institution will have to ask all beneficiaries to give legal affidavits in writing that any service provided for them is without any attempt to change their religion.’
The protestors’ press release claims that many existing laws prevent forced conversions, of which there is no evidence.
In addition the law criminalises the practice of faith, acts of kindness and social service, and legitimises hate crimes against minorities. It also prohibits the right to speak freely or critically about religion.
A district magistrate must now be notified 30 days before converting by both the individual and the religious figure effecting the conversion. The magistrate then has power to investigate the ‘genuine intention, purpose and cause of the proposed conversion’. Failure to comply carries a prison sentence of one to three years.
The Church of South India (CSI) is part of the Anglican Communion. A senior CSI pastor in charge of a large school, children’s home and medical facility said that ‘the new law will be used to barge into all Christian churches and institutions to check all our documents and activities’.
The background is that for a thousand years Hindus have felt humiliated, first by Islamic conquerors for 800 years and then by the British rulers for 200 years. Many now call for a Hindu nation, with a strong religious identity that officially allows no other religion and no further mosques or churches.
The pastor also noted that in Bangalore, where, of 60,000 autorickshaw drivers, 20% are thought to be Christian, one driver had declared that, despite this ban, ‘my Hinduism does not accept me. Only Christ alive is the answer. I will continue to evangelise because the truth is with us to save them.’
Evangelicals Now March 2022 here