The government of Jharkhand (in the northeast of the country) last night approved a law prohibiting conversions brought about by force or coercion. The government spokesman explained that “anyone who violates this law may be sentenced to three years in prison and 50,000 rupees [over 600 euros] fine, or both.”
The law provides for more severe penalties for forced conversion of underage girls and tribal women (scheduled tribes). In this case, the culprit can be sentenced to four years in jail and /or a fine of 100,000 rupees. The law, approved by the govern-ment, has to be approved by the local parliament, on August 8. If it passes, Jharkhand will be the seventh state in India with a law against forced or coerced conversions. Such laws already exist in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Himachal Pradesh. Speaking to AsiaNews, Card. Telesphore Toppo, Archbishop of Ranchi and of tribal ethnicity, states: “This law is not to prohibit conversions, but it is against forced conversions. Forced conversions do not exist. We are free people with a free will and a free conscience and intelligence. No one can force another to convert.”
Commenting earlier to journalists, he had expressed sadness at the government’s decision. “For decades, we have held many schools and colleges, clinics and hospitals across the state, serving the poor, the oppressed, and the abandoned. None of the millions of people we have ever served have been converted to Christianity.”
Although the law only wants to prevent forced conversions or illicit conversions, Hindu nationalists fear of any kind of conversion. According to the Times of India, the Jharkhand government’s decision came after the census data was presented in 2011. On a total population of 35 million, 27% is tribal; Christians are 4.3% and Muslims 14.53. Data show that over the past 10 years, the Hindu population has grown by 21%; Christians of 29.7%, Muslims by 28.4%.