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Anti-conversion laws to limit Christians in Indian state

by Cara Bentley

The law, in Himachal Pradesh state, is designed to prevent 'forced conversion' but Christians fear it will be used to put limits on their ability to pray for people and offer help.

Similar laws are already in force in six other states (Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Gujarat and Uttarakhand) and are gaining in popularity because it is believed that forced conversions happen and need to be prevented. Hindu radicals are calling to impose them at the national level.

A priest performing a conversion ceremony will also have to give a month's notice and people who reconvert to their original religion are exempted from this requirement.

The bill prohibits the 'offer of any temptation in the form of any gift or gratification or material benefit, either in cash or employment, free education in a reputed school run by any religious body, easy money, better lifestyle, divine pleasure or otherwise'.

The Christian freedom charity Open Doors suspect this could now mean anyone praying for someone else's healing will be accused of enticing people into forced conversion.

The bill suggests seven years of jail for forced conversions, while the existing 2006 Freedom of Religion Act, which the new bill seeks to revoke, was proposing three years.

Any person or organisation violating the provisions will also not be allowed to accept donations.

The Ministry of Home Affairs has also introduced rules for non-governmental organisations receiving foreign funds, saying they will now have to declare to the authorities that they have not been prosecuted or convicted of converting anyone from one religion to another.

India's Christians fear that these rules will target all Christian NGOs and are expecting to be investigated more often and asked to stop all their activities.

India is number 10 on the 2019 World Watch List, Open Doors' annual ranking of the 50 countries where Christians face the most extreme persecution.

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