Despite the desperate need for aid and relief in regions devastated by Indias monsoon rains, in many of the nations states, faith-based charitable organizations are restricted in their ability to provide assistance, according to a religious liberty watchdog group.
In response to conversions to Christianity and other minority religions by members of lower casts, Hindus in India have passed anti-conversion laws that can lead to fines and/or imprisonment for members of faith-based charitable organizations attempting to provide assistance, reported the Washington, DC-based Becket Fund.
The current anti-conversion law in the state of Gujarat, for example, a region affected by the floods, threatens to fine and/or imprison anyone who intentionally or unintentionally converts another, the agency stated. A maximum penalty of three years imprisonment and a fine of approximately $2,200 is what one should expect if he or she happens to influence another to convert.
Under the vague text and application of anti-conversion laws such as those Gujarat state, faith-based organizations offering aid and assistance to those left destitute by floods are in danger of being prosecuted for violation of the law, it adds.
Fortunately, Mumbai which was most severely affected by the monsoon is located in the state of Maharashtra, which does not currently have an anti- conversion law. However, the Becket Fund noted that as the monsoon continues to deliver heavy rains to India, one can only hope that the rains do not fall on those regions where anti- conversion laws, and therefore religious persecution, run rampant.
According to Jared N. Leland, Esq., Media and Legal Counsel for The Becket Fund, the chilling effect of anti-conversion laws such as Indias and similar efforts to criminalize Christianity and faith-based relief efforts in Southeast Asia is that they will inevitably cut off the very lifeline that sustains the growth and redevelopment of the region.
"Those in Southeast Asia need now, more than ever, helping hands to put them back on their feet," Leland said, "and these laws and efforts, the fruits of religious persecution, will do nothing more than push them back down."
Currently in the western Indian state of Maharashtra, relief is being provided by faith-based groups including Gospel for Asia, Christian Aid, Church's Auxiliary for Social Action (CASA), and Action by Churches Together (ACT).
Meanwhile, World Vision, one of the largest Christian relief and development organizations in the world, has provided relief to thousands of people affected by flooding in India's southern region of Gujarat. In addition their rapid response efforts, World Vision has supplied more than 20,000 food packets to the government, to be air-dropped into flood-affected areas during the first few days of the response.