On November 21, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led government of India’s Uttar Pradesh state proposed a draft bill that would regulate religious conversions and criminalize ‘forced conversions.’ If passed, Uttar Pradesh would be the latest state in India to adopt what is commonly referred to as an anti-conversion law.
According to the draft bill, entitled The Uttar Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2019, individuals who want to change their religion must submit an application to the state government a month prior to their conversion. Government authorities will then carry out a thorough investigation to determine if the conversion is legitimate. If an individual fails to inform the government of their intent to change their religion, they could be punished with a jail term of up to two years.
In addition, the draft bill proposes to criminalize what it calls ‘forced conversions’. According to the bill, an individual found to have forcefully converted someone could be punished with a jail term of one to five years. However, if the individual forcefully converted is a woman, minor, or from a lower caste, the jail term is raised to seven years.
According to the commission that drafted the bill, the current provisions of the Indian Penal Code are “not sufficient” to prevent religious conversions.
Submitting the draft bill, Justice Aditya Nath Mittal, said,
“Some organizations are enticing Hindus to convert for their own gains. There is no data as such to say how many forced conversions have taken place, but in 2014, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath himself had raised the matter and we gave him a set of news clippings of the past six months to prove our point.”
While the draft bill would seek to regulate and criminalize many religious conversions, it would not affect all conversions. In fact, the draft bill states that an individual seeking to “reconvert” to Hinduism though a ‘Ghar Vapsi’ program would not be affected.
Radical Hindu nationalists often used the specter of mass religious conversions to pass laws and regulations that limit religious freedom. Indian Christians are falsely accused of conspiracies where poor Hindus are fraudulently converted to Christianity.
However, according to India’s own population data, the conspiracy of mass conversions to Christianity does not hold up. In 1951, the first census after independence, Christians made up only 2.3% of India’s overall population. According to the 2011 census, the most recent census data available, Christians still only make up 2.3% of the population.
In states where anti-conversion laws are currently enacted, including Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Uttrakhand, they are widely abused. Radical nationalists falsely accused Christian leaders and evangelists of forcefully converting individuals to Christianity to justify harassment and assault. Local police often overlook this harassment due to the false accusation of forced conversions.
To date, no individual has been convicted of forced conversions in India. This is in spite of the fact that some of the state-level anti-conversion laws have been on the books since 1967.
This story first appeared on Persecution.org here.