On 28 September, the Indian state of Karnataka joined several others by officially enacting laws that restrict conversion from one religion to another.
The Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Act officially seeks to prohibit “unlawful conversion from one religion to another by misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means”.
While it is wise to restrict coercive conversions, such laws have frequently been misused against religious minorities, especially Christians, throughout India.
The bill was passed by the Legislative Council on 15 September, despite objections by opposition members, who walked out in protest. The legislation received the governor’s assent on 28 September and has been brought into effect retroactively to 17 May.
Although the bill had passed the Legislative Assembly in December last year, it was not brought before the upper house until the Hindu nationalist party (BJP) obtained a majority of seats in the council to guarantee its passing.
Christians have raised concerns, calling the law draconian. Anyone convicted of participating in an ‘illegal’ conversion will now face five years in prison, extended to ten years if it involves the conversion of a minor.
The law also allows anyone to lodge a complaint against another individual, opening ways to further harass Christians. Hindu nationalists have claimed that Christian groups use social services such as schools and hospitals to illicitly convert Hindus.
Pray that Christian leaders in Karnataka, along with those of other Indian states, will be granted God’s wisdom and direction as they navigate these widely abused laws.
Pray that believers will receive divinely appointed opportunities to continue reaching out to those around them with the gospel message, even in the midst of these dangers.
Pray that governing officials in India will realise the value of respecting diverse opinions and will endeavour to work harmoniously with members of all religious communities.