New Indian anti-conversion law draws Christian protests

So-called 'anti-conversion' laws in India are designed to restrict religious freedom, according to Indian theologian Fr Michael Kerketta, who teaches in the capital of the latest state to enact them.

Kerketta is a professor in Ranchi, capital of Jharkand, which recently became the ninth state to introduce an anti-conversion law.

A protester holds a placard during a rally in Mumbai by hundreds of Christians against attacks on churches nationwide.Danish Siddiqui/Reuters

He told the Fides news service: 'The measure affects non-Hindu religious communities like Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, and other local communities. It is our duty to denounce an injustice that violates the freedom of conscience and religion and is against the Constitution.'

Protests agains the law will be held on Saturday, September 23.

Kerketta noted that the state government was in the hands of the right-wing Baratya Janata Party (BJP). He said: 'Hindu extremist groups in the state of Jharkhand are strong and have ample space in society. In past days anti-Christian demonstrations in Ranchi and violent militants shook the city. Some Christians are in prison for false accusations of having promoted conversions.'

Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, Secretary General of the Indian Bishops' Conference previously wrote to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi warning of hostility toward religious minorities he said was promoted by the First Minister of Jharkhand, Raghubar Das, and his executive. The bishop said: 'If it is not immediately brought under control, it could lead the state and its population to a path of violence and hatred.' The letter says that 'the Catholic Church strongly opposes forced conversions. But at the same time it affirms its right to preach, practise and spread the faith.' It says Christians, though victims of violence, 'will not respond with violence' but will continue to work for the poor and marginalised with 'education, medical care and other social activities'.