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Christians in Kashmir fear anti-conversion legislation

by Cara Bentley

Kashmir is a region in India which is the centre of a dispute between India, Pakistan and China.

The state of Jammu and Kashmir within the region has some autonomy from India, allowing Kashmiris to govern themselves in many ways. 

However, on Monday India revoked Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which had given special status to the Muslim-majority region, allowing it to have a separate constitution, a state flag and autonomy over the internal administration of the state.

Now, the region is in lockdown with schools and shops closed and no public transport. Thousands of Indian troops were sent in to enforce curfews and the internet is still cut off. 

Dr Matthew Rees from religious freedom charity Open Doors said: "The tensions in Kashmir are very worrying for religious minorities across India and particularly for those living in Kashmir. This includes the local Christian population, many of whom are from a Muslim background and already experiencing severe pressure from their community.

"Sources in Kashmir have told Open Doors that they are concerned that this latest development will increase the already high levels of fear amongst the minority communities in the Kashmir. The events in the region make it very clear that no minority in India can expect any level of special protection."
Religious minorities in India are concerned that the government will introduce anti-conversion legislation in Kashmir.

49 Indian celebrities have written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi requesting him to take action on intolerance, lynching and religious persecution of minorities in the nation.
The letter said that while the number of cases of violence against minorities was on the rise, there was a decline in the percentage of convictions of perpetrators.
The letter also claimed there were 254 religious identity-based hate crimes between 1st January 2009 and 29th October 2018 where at least 91 people were killed and 579 were injured. It went on to add that 90% of these attacks had been reported after May 2014, when the BJP government assumed power nationally.
Christians in India face thousands of attacks taking place every year.

Currently, anti-conversion laws are in force in seven states: Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Gujarat and Uttarakhand. Hindu radicals are calling to impose the anti-conversion legislation at the national level.

Authorities have eased restrictions in most parts of Srinagar, the main city, ahead of an Islamic festival. 

Magistrate Shahid Choudhary said more than 250 cash machines had been made functional and bank branches opened for people to withdraw money ahead of Monday's Eid al-Adha festival.

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