India's Rajasthan State Tables Anti-Conversion Bill

The Northwestern Indian state of Rajasthan wants to adopt an anti-conversion law over the objections of the local Christian community, Asian news agencies reported Wednesday. On Mar. 24, the state legislature is scheduled to vote on the bill, which might bring its weight to bear upon an increasing anti-Christian trend.

Tabled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)—the Hindu nationalist party that has been accused of being hostile to religious minorities—the bill would “curtail” missionaries' attempts to convert people, according to Rajasthan Home Minister Gulab Chand Kataria.

“[We] cannot allow conversions to take place in our state,” Kataria told the state assembly, as reported by AsiaNews.

According to the Italy-based news agency, Rajasthan Christian Churches have strongly condemned the bill, which some believe would give Christians and other religious minorities “a feeling of insecurity and fear.”

Should it be adopted, the bill would punish those who induce or force others to convert, but religious minority rights activists have pointed out that Hindu fundamentalists use such notions in an abusive way. For example, under the terms of the proposed law, Christian charity works could be accused of proselytizing and be stopped and punished as a result.

For J C Biswas, a Christian activist, the law “will be a blunt instrument in the hands of fundamentalists to attack minorities and minority institutions.”

However, recent reports of escalating violence against Christians in Rajasthan and in a number of states throughout India have already made their way outside the predominantly Hindu nation and into religious media agencies.

Hindu fundamentalist groups have claimed that recent efforts against the nation’s Christians are “a spontaneous reaction by local people against missioners adamant on conversion.”

“Christian organizations are on a warpath—accept their religion or face the music,” the Hindu nationalist weekly Organizer quoted a Hindu leader in the state as saying.

In an article titled “Proselytizers run amok”, another Hindu leader, Jagaram Samukhya, alleged “Christian missioners in Orissa were on a conversion spree to achieve their target by hook or crook.”

Christians familiar with accusations of unethical conversions by India’s predominantly Hindu population have stressed the need for vigilance against efforts that may be seen as attempts to trick peasants into converting with promises of gifts of food and clothing.

However, AsiaNews reported that even those churches that try to avoid being accused of unethical conversion by being committed only to human development projects such as schools, hospitals and dispensaries, have come under activist fire.