Concerns over ban on prayers for healing in India

The Indian state of Assam.(Photo: Getty/iStock)

Christians have criticised a controversial bill in the Indian state of Assam that bans prayers for healing. 

The Assam Healing (Prevention of Evil) Practices Bill, 2024, threatens people who conduct so-called "magical healing" with harsh fines and even imprisonment, Crux reports.

It makes "inhuman, evil, or magical healing practices" illegal and offenders face up to five years in prison or a maximum fine of 100,000 rupees (around £950). 

According to Crux, the Chief Minister of Assam said the bill was "an important milestone" in efforts to "curb evangelism in Assam". 

The bill was passed on February 26 and will need to be ratified by India's president Droupadi Murmu before it comes into force. 

Local Christians fear that it is a precursor to the introduction of anti-conversion laws that have been used in other states to crackdown on Christians. 

John Moolachira of Guwahati Archdiocese and president of the Assam Christian Forum shared his disbelief about the bill in comments to India's The Print.

"We don't simply go around healing — it is part of our prayer. We have healing prayers like every other religion — when sick people come, we pray for them — individually, or by making them stand together in a group. We don't do magic to heal people. Why is the government making it illegal and punishable is what we don't understand," he said. 

In a statement, The Assam Christian Forum said: "Healing, in our context, is not synonymous with proselytization. It is a compassionate response to human suffering, irrespective of religious affiliations."

A locally-based partner of the Christian charity Open Doors said the bill puts mission workers and the Christian community at risk.

"It provides the religious groups an opportunity to generate false allegations against Christians and their institutions. The bill specifically targets the Christian community in Assam," she said. 

She expressed fears that violence against Christians in nearby Manipur will spill over into Assam. 

"Please pray for the northeastern states in India, they were once a haven for Christians. They are now endangered with constant news of violence," she said.