Tuesday, February 2, 2021

RLPB 583. India, Madhya Pradesh: anti-conversion law ramped up.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 583 | Wed 03 Feb 2021
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INDIA, MADHYA PRADESH: ANTI-CONVERSION LAW RAMPED UP
- protecting tribal culture vs respecting tribal liberty.
By Elizabeth Kendal

Governor Anandiben Patel

On 9 January 2021 Madhya Pradesh (MP) Governor Anandiben Patel gave her assent for the 'Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Ordinance, 2020' - a draconian anti-conversion bill - to be enacted as law. The Ordinance replaces the state's more than 50-year-old 'Freedom of Religion Act, 1968' and incorporates many elements of Uttar Pradesh's recently enacted anti-conversion law [RLPB 582 (27 Jan)], including the requirement that the conversion first be approved by the District Magistrate, and penalties of up to 10 years in prison. Easily weaponised by Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) forces, such laws do nothing but stoke suspicion and fuel persecution.

On 11 January Azad Prem Singh, a local leader of the Hindu nationalist Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP, World Hindu Council) led a mob of angry Hindu nationalists on a march through Jhabua city (west of Indore in MP's far west). Singh presented the District Magistrate/Collector with a hand-written memorandum and threatened violence if the local government did not meet its demands in the next 30 days. Singh's demands include that all tribal churches established on tribal land be shut down, that action be taken against priests and pastors who engage in 'illegal conversions' and that converts be denied access to social welfare. Speaking to media, Singh explained: 'As per the special provisions of the Indian constitution, the traditions, cultures, languages and other practices of the indigenous people are bound to be protected and nobody from outside is allowed to change them.' On 26 January Hindu nationalist leader Kamlesh Malviya met with Jhabua District's village elders to insist that villagers must disassociate themselves from Christians and persecute those who refuse to return to Hinduism. Comprising a mere four percent of the population, the Christians of Jhabua district are extremely vulnerable.

Hindutva forces invade Satprakashan Sanchar Kendra.
 Indore, 26 Jan 2021 (Photo: UCA News)

Also on 26 January a Pentecostal group was holding a prayer service at the Satprakashan Sanchar Kendra - a Catholic media and training centre in Indore - when up to 100 activists from the Bajrang Dal (a militant Hindutva youth movement) barged in chanting Hindutva slogans and accusing the believers of procuring illegal mass religious conversions. A 25-year-old woman issued a complaint, accusing her parents of luring her there on a false pretext. 'I was born a Hindu and I practise the same religion,' she told police, 'but my mother and those present there were forcing me to convert my religion.' Nine believers - including the complainant's parents - were arrested, while two others remain wanted by police; cases have been registered against all eleven. According to Bajrang Dal local unit head Tannu Sharma, the roughly 300 attenders had been lured for the purpose of illegal conversion. However, the attendees told police they had come freely of their own volition and had no complaints.

On 27 January, in Balaghat district, 431km east of Bhopal, police arrested government school-teacher Mr Chhatar Singh Katre (a Hindu) along with a Christian priest and another believer whom Katre had invited to attend his daughter's 20th birthday. Mr Katre has held the priest and Christianity in high regard since the priest had graciously helped him 'cure' his desperately ill wife [presumably through prayer and/or provision of medical aid]. Militants from the Bajrang Dal stormed the party with police who accused Katre and the priest of procuring illegal conversions by offering to pay villagers to convert while threatening them with bad fortune should they refuse. Three arrests were made. The wives of two of the accused immediately wrote to the district Superintendent of Police demanding the immediate release of their husbands whom they insist had been framed by police who forced villagers to register the complaint.

On 29 January the Madhya Pradesh High Court issued a notice to the Madhya Pradesh State Government challenging the constitutionality of the anti-conversion law. The plea - which was filed by final year law student Mr Amratansh Nema - alleges that the provisions contained in the ordinance are motivated by religious intolerance, are a grave violation of 'constitutional provisions' and are 'a blatant attack on the religious autonomy of individuals.' The plea also asserts that because the Ordinance was promulgated in utmost haste and in an autocratic manner, without proper consultation or due process, it constitutes an abuse of power. The Bench has posted the matter for further hearing after eight weeks. Please pray!

click on map to enlarge

PLEASE PRAY THAT OUR MERCIFUL GOD WILL:

* intervene in Jhabua District to prevent a Christian Crisis; may District Magistrate/Collector Shri. Rohit Singh [contact details] reject the demands of Hindutva forces, and respect and guarantee the liberty and security of tribal Christians. If that is not to be, then may Yahweh Sabaoth (the Lord of Hosts; i.e. the commander of Yahweh's heavenly armies) shield, protect, rescue and sustain his precious Church in the event that violence erupts against her.

'For not from the east or from the west and not from the wilderness comes lifting up, but it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another... All the horns [Hebrew, qeren: strength/power] of the wicked I will cut off, but the horns of the righteous shall be lifted up' (Psalm 75:6,7,10 ESV).

* sustain and comfort those who have been falsely accused and arrested in Indore, Balaghat and elsewhere, may each one experience the Lord's love and faithfulness and may Mr Chhatar Singh Katre (a Hindu) place his trust in the one true, living, loving and omnipresent God (whom he has met, but not yet embraced). Matthew 10:16-39

* use for his glory the case that has been filed in Madhya Pradesh's High Court, challenging the constitutionality of the anti-conversion law; may religious intolerance be exposed and condemned; may the Lord protect and bless law student Mr Amratansh Nema, along with all who dare to resist Hindutva forces and raise their voice for religious liberty in Madhya Pradesh.

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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ANTI-CONVERSION LAW RAMPED UP IN INDIA

On 9 January the governor of Madhya Pradesh (MP) gave her assent for a new draconian anti-conversion ordinance to be enacted as law. Hindu activists moved quickly, targeting several perfectly legal Christian gatherings, accusing the believers of procuring illegal conversions. Arrests have been made. Meanwhile, a final year law student has filed a plea in MP's High Court challenging the constitutionality of the law. The Bench has posted the matter for further hearing after eight weeks. Critically, a Christian crisis is brewing in Jhabua District. On 11 January Hindu nationalists marched through Jhabua city and delivered an ultimatum. They gave the District Magistrate 30 days to implement their demands to shut Christian churches, move against Christian pastors and deny welfare to Christian converts - otherwise, violence will ensue. Please pray.

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF) and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com