Crossing the Bridge

A Good Idea Gone Wrong: How Policy Led to Christian Persecution in India

BY WILLIAM STARK

 12 12 05 persecution of Christians in India

Radical Hindus use anti-forced conversion law
as a way to justify Christian persecution in India. 

 

In 1968, India passed its first freedom of religion act. It made conversion to any religion by force illegal. On first blush, this law seems like a great idea. I think everyone can agree that people should not be forced to convert to a particular religion for any reason. In reality, this law is used by radical Hindu groups to further Christian persecution in India.

A Policy of Persecution

The pretense for the law is to protect the weak-minded, the weak-willed and the truly desperate from being forced to convert to a religion. The law restricts conversions that are a result of force, fraud or inducement. Up to this point, the law still seems pretty good, right? No one should be able to hold a gun to your head and force you to convert. Both force and fraud are pretty self-explanatory. People shouldn’t be threatened or tricked into converting to a particular religion. What about inducement? I agree, people shouldn’t be able to bribe you into converting, but what is considered a bribe?    

The law can be manipulated by local Hindu police connected with radical groups like Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (‘RSS’) and Bajrang Dal (‘BD’). In the hands of these groups the following is deemed to be an illegal “inducements/bribe” to Christian conversion: a promise of eternal salvation through faith in Christ, the building of Christian schools, Christian hospitals or Christian orphanages, the building or repair of damaged homes, and the feeding and/or caring of the poor. This application of the law essentially makes any sort of Christian evangelism illegal and makes Christian persecution in India an “official policy.”

Isn’t it part of our calling as Christians to care for the poor? Isn’t eternal salvation through faith in Jesus Christ our Savior the central message of Christianity? If any of these aforementioned “inducements” are found to exist during a particular conversion, the pastor or individual responsible for the conversion is arrested and “brought to justice” under the anti-forced conversion law. How could you spread the Gospel and/or be a pastor in India without getting arrested? It seems impossible, doesn’t it? It’s OK to be Christian; it’s just illegal to share your faith with anyone. 

Law in Action

Here’s a real life example of the anti-forced conversion law in action: On October 9, Pastor Ashok was preaching to a fellowship of believers in Madhya Pradesh, India. In Madhya Pardesh, both RSS and BD have a very strong presence. As Pastor Ashok was preaching, radical Hindus broke into the fellowship. The radicals had planted an agent within the fellowship that claimed he was being forcefully converted. The radicals used this “forced conversion” incident as a license to beat Pastor Ashok and his family who were present at the fellowship.

After being severely beaten, Ashok was brought to the police and was accused of forceful conversion. To bolster the radicals’ claim, one of the them cut his own hand with a knife and claimed that Pastor Ashok attacked him when the group confronted him about forcefully converting people. Instead of arresting the group of radical Hindus for assault and battery, Ashok was taken into custody, jailed and set to stand trial for forceful conversion.

While in prison, Ashok was not treated for the injuries he received during the attack. His leg, which was broken, became infected. He had to be rushed to a hospital once he was bailed out of jail pending trial because of the infection. Fortunately, a Christian government official was able to intervene in the situation and the charges against Ashok has been withdrawn. Still no charges have been brought against the group of radicals for assaulting Ashok. This is merely one example of Christian persecution in India.

A Game of Numbers

Why are incidents like this common in India? Do Hindu radicals really care about Christian conversions? Why does there seem to be an official policy of Christian persecution in India? To answer these questions it is important to look at the religious make up of India. India has a population of 1.2 billion and growing. About 90 percent are Hindu.  A mere 2.6 percent (31.2 million) are Christian. Many Hindu radicals fear the appeal of the Christian message to the 150 million Dalits (formerly called “untouchable”) who for so long made up the lowest part of the Hindu caste system. If Christians were allowed to freely evangelize in India, the potential for Christianity’s growth is huge. On the high end, Christianity could go from 2.6 percent (31.2 million) of the population to 15.1 percent (182.2 million) with the Gospel only being accepted by Dalits. That is why there is a law that enforces Christian persecution in India as an official policy.    

Hopefully this will change and Christian persecution in India will be a thing of the past. On August 30 of this year, an Indian court struck down a law that also restricted Christian conversion in India. This law required people who were converting to Christianity to give a civil magistrate 30 days’ notice before they converted. How can people give notice about a change of heart? Seems pretty suspect, doesn’t it? Since an Indian was able to strike down this law, maybe someday they will be able to strike down the anti-forced conversion law, or at least curtail the practice of using the law as a means to persecuted Christians in India. 

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