The government of Rajasthan in India has become the sixth state in the country to introduce an anti-conversion law, Christian Solidarity Worldwide has reported.
Currently the government is drawing up the framework for the new legislation, and once these rules have been laid down the law will be implemented immediately. Christians, Dalits and civil rights groups, however, are planning to challenge the law in Indias Supreme Court as soon as the law is implemented.
The Rajasthan Dharma Swatantraya (Freedom of Religion) Act, which will outlaw any attempt to convert another person from one religion to another by use of force or by allurement or by fraudulent means, is allegedly intended to maintain harmony amongst persons of various religions, according to U.K.-based CSW
However, the interdenominational human rights organization reported that there is widespread fear that the opposite will take place. The punishments specified by the law are a prison term of not less than two years or a fine of up to 50,000 rupees (approximately $1,100).
Already in another five states in India anti-conversion laws have been put in place, and it is well-known that Christians have been the target of intense attacks from Hindu extremists in the country. A common occurrence now is for these extremists to accuse Christians of converting people by force or fraud.
Critics have highlighted religious minorities as the ones that will suffer the most under the new laws. Many have argued that the law contains a number of deep flaws that will damage religious freedom.
In particular, the terms used in the bill are extremely vague and could easily be used to restrict a wide range of religious activities, explained CSW.
For example, the bill seeks to prevent people from attempting to convert others by allurement, CSW stated. This could inhibit charitable work, especially among Dalits and the more vulnerable sections of society. Additionally, the fact that even attempting to convert others is outlawed threatens any religious propagation.
It is also a concern that the new law is being targeted specifically towards Dalits, to restrict their freedom of faith.
The law gives a definition that a persons religion as that of their forefathers, and therefore obstructs them from adopting a different religion from that of their parents.
In Indias culture, this means that the law will limit the freedom of Dalits who are born into a very strict caste system to adopt religion according to their individual choice. Hence, it forces them to remain in their position of the caste system.
Critics suggest that because this law threatens religious and charitable activities, it has serious implications for the freedom of faith for Dalits, and will contribute to their subjugation, CSW reported.
Alexa Papadouris, Advocacy Director at CSW, said, The introduction of this law is deeply concerning, and an affront to Indias constitutionally protected religious freedom.
We call on the international community to fully support those in India who are protesting against this law and other anti-conversion laws in India, to safeguard the full religious freedom of all Indias citizens.