India is being called to uphold religious freedom for all its citizens after Haryana became the 10th state in the country to pass an anti-conversion law.
The Prevention of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Bill was passed by the state assembly last month, with Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar saying, "No person shall be allowed to use coercion, threat or marriage as a means to convert people."
There are fears that in reality, the law will be used to target Christians.
"There has been a gradual shutdown of house churches in the region through threats and violence," one pastor in Haryana told International Christian Concern.
"The new law will be one more step to validate what they have been doing to Christians. The law can be misused to target innocent Christians."
The bill was passed despite strong opposition in the assembly, with members staging a walkout in protest on 22 March.
Assembly member Kiran Choudhry said the "draconian" measure violated the Indian constitution and was a "complete invasion" of personal freedom.
She warned that the passing of the bill would go down as a 'black day in the history of Haryana" that will "deepen the communal divide".
"The state should never interfere in the personal domain of an individual and in those rights guaranteed to us under the... constitution," she said.
Release International, a ministry serving persecuted Christians, said the law was really aimed at "limiting the freedom of Christians to share their faith and the right of Hindus to convert freely".
Release CEO Paul Robinson said, "As India's election process gathers momentum Release International is seeing record numbers of attacks against Christians and other minorities.
"This new law will deny the poorest of the poor in India the right to choose their faith. We call on India to protect the rights and religious freedoms of all its citizens under its constitution."
The warning follows the release of a report by the United Christian Forum (UCF) which called 2021 the "most violent year for Christians".
According to the report, there were 486 recorded instances of violence and harassment against Christians, an increase of 71% on the previous year.
Robinson called on the Indian government to uphold democracy and religious freedom.
"India is the world's largest democracy. Yet these laws which find the accused guilty until proven innocent and that deny constitutional rights to the country's citizens are profoundly anti-democratic," he said.
"We call on India to stop this headlong march towards intolerance and urge the international community to help this vital nation back on the path towards freedom."