India plans “anti-conversion” laws

The Hindu revivalist movement in India has recently concentrated its attentions on trying to stem the tide of Dalits (oppressed lower-caste Hindus) converting to other religions.

“Anti-conversion” laws have already been introduced in a number of states including Arunachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Tamil Nadu and a national “anti-conversion” law has been proposed.

The ‚Äúanti-conversion‚Äù laws have been drafted by Dr. Previn Togadia, head of the VHP (World Hindu Council). In a recent television interview, he said, “We are dead against conversion of any type. If I change my religion, that is a different thing. But if you target me, they (Christians) are targeting! They are harassing! They are planning and preparing! It is nothing but religious terrorism.

“It’s not a question of the number of Christians. It’s the concept. It is not a number, it is a virus. A single AIDS virus is sufficient to kill a human being. So conversion is cultural AIDS, which will destroy pluralism.”

There has been widespread opposition to the proposed new laws which require a potential convert to file a written application with a government official. Converts are also required to have had a secondary education. As India has 350 million illiterate people, observers feel the proposals are specifically aimed at Christian organisations working amongst the poor and the Dalits.

In a recent interview, Dr. Joseph D’Souza (President of the All-India Christian Council) analysed the situation:

Christians are a major challenge to Hindu militant groups as we are seen as a group who can give empowerment to oppressed castes (such as Dalits). There has been caste turmoil in India for the past 15 years and the Dalits are looking for a “spiritually democratic faith” and in many cases, are knocking at the door of the church. Since 2001, over 600 new churches have been formed among the Dalits. The opponents of the church don’t want the Gospel to go beyond the four walls of the church.

If the proposed anti-conversion legislation goes through, it will be a severe blow, not just to religious freedom but also to democracy. There is no country in the world where there is democracy without religious freedom. If Hindu extremists succeed in pushing this legislation through, democracy will be their next target. The AICC will contest any such legislation in the courts and would expect the support of Christians worldwide in opposing such laws.