The governor of Madhya Pradesh (central state of India) has just approved a bill that penalizes religious conversions believed to have been obtained by fraudulent means. The Catholic Church, for its part, sees it as “a systematic plan to harass the Christian minority.”
“No one shall convert or attempt to convert, directly or otherwise, any other person by using false statements, seductions, threats of force, undue influence, coercion, or marriage, or any other fraudulent means.” A catch-all text enshrined in the law since January 8, 2021, in Madhya Pradesh.
From now on, in this central Indian state, “any conversion in violation of the law will be considered null and void, and will incur a sentence of ten years in prison,” specifies Anandiben Patel, governor of Madhya Pradesh and member of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The neighboring state of Uttar Pradesh had already taken a similar step at the end of last year, with the introduction of a law “against conversions,” which specifically targets marriages concluded “with the sole intention of changing a girl’s religion.”
This state ruled by a fundamentalist monk, Yogi Adityanath, intends to “protect the honor of our sisters and our daughters.”
Msgr. Leo Cornelius, Archbishop of Bhopal, reacted strongly to the new law in force in Madhya Pradesh: “This is a systematic plan to harass minorities, especially Christians. This is not a new law, it has existed since 1968, amended in 2006, but it has been tightened up to make it more stringent,” deplores the high prelate.
For Archbishop Cornelius, the new law weakens the Christian minority a little more: “already, when Christians get together for family or community prayers, you have an extremist group come to interrupt the prayers, while another group goes to the police in order to register cases of invented conversions against Christians.”
Not to mention a two-tier justice system that disregards abjurations forcibly extracted from Christians: “when the Sangh Parivar (Hindu militias) carry out mass conversion actions, which they call Ghar Wapsi - modestly called ‘return home’- the laws are never enforced; they are one-sided, with the sole aim of persecuting the Christian minority and pleasing the ruling party,” denounces the Archbishop of Bhopal.
In the state of Madhya Pradesh - over 85 million people in 2020 - Christians are a persecuted minority that constitutes less than 1% of the population as opposed to the over 90% Hindu.