– International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that the Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh, a state located in northeastern India, has claimed that the state’s Freedom of Religion Law, more commonly known as an anti-conversion law, targets Christians and that he will take steps to repeal it.
On Thursday, June 28, Chief Minister Pema Khandu, a member of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said, “The anti-conversion law could undermine secularism and is probably targeted towards Christians.” This statement was made while the Chief Minister addressed an event hosted by the Arunachal Pradesh Catholic Association as reported by The Hindu.
“Any misuse of the law leading to torture of people could trigger large-scale violence in the state and could break Arunachal into pieces,” the Chief Minister explained. He then assured that the law would be brought before the next assembly session for repeal as it “could be misused by irresponsible officials.”
Arunachal Pradesh was the third state in India to enact an anti-conversion law in 1978. Currently, seven states, including Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Arunachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Gujrat, and Uttarakhand, have enacted similar legislation to limit religious conversion.
Besides regulating religious conversion, these laws also make it illegal to convert or attempt to convert someone from one religion to another by means of force, inducement, coercion or fraud. However, state governments have not defined the terms “force,” “inducement,” “coercion,” or “fraud” in the context of religious conversions. Due to this legal ambiguity, these laws have been widely abused by radical Hindu nationalists to harass and intimidate Christians while claiming to be under the auspices of state law.
“I welcome the move of the Chief Minister and applaud him for his conviction and much-awaited declaration,” Dr. Michael William, President of the United Christian Forum, told ICC. “Freedom of Religion acts are completely contrary to Article 25 of the constitution of India. They target peace-loving Christian minorities of the states in which they are implanted.”
“We rejoice at the anticipated striking down of the act in Arunachal Pradesh,” Dr. William continued. “We hope that the elected representatives of other states will see the light and correct these anti-constitutional acts soon.”
The BJP has held power in Arunachal Pradesh since late 2016. Arunachal Pradesh is a Christian-majority state by a small margin, being approximately 30% Christian and 29% Hindu; an atypical religious composition for an Indian state.
William Stark, ICC’s Regional Manager, said, “We here at International Christian Concern are very happy to see Chief Minister Pema Khandu acknowledge the suffering of Christians within his state and promise to take positive action. These laws are widely abused by Hindu radicals due to the legal ambiguity within the laws themselves. Often, these laws provide an easy justification for radicals to attack Christian leaders with impunity. One simply needs to claim that a pastor was forcefully converting people following an assault. As a result, instead of arresting the pastor’s assailants, the police will arrest the assailed pastor following an attack. With attacks on Christians skyrocketing, the repeal of this law will be a great step toward India enforcing religious freedom for all.”