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« on: January 16, 2007, 10:07:29 PM »

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2.) Himachal Pradesh Anti-Conversion Law Targets Christians

      Christian outreach and evangelism are being threatened in the far-north Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, where the state assembly has approved an anti-conversion bill. This is the eighth state in India to pass anti-conversion legislation. Five states have signed the bills into law. If the Himachal Pradesh bill is signed into law by the governor, it would impose fines and prison time on both those who embrace Christianity and those who introduce them to Christ.

      "As with every issue faced by our missionaries on the field, we are taking this difficulty to our Lord in prayer," said K.P. Yohannan, founder and president of Gospel for Asia. "We ask that all Christians join us in prayer that by God's grace, the governor of Himachal Pradesh will refuse to sign this bill. We also pray that this potential legislation would not lead to an increase in persecution of GFA missionaries and believers sharing Christ.

      "We are also praying that the elected officials who are debating this bill will come to understand that Jesus loves them.

      The proposal, known as "The Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Bill," was passed by the state assembly on December 30. Under the proposal, anyone found guilty of forcibly converting another person to any faith except Hinduism could be put in prison for up to two years and/or fined up to 25,000 rupees (US$565). Anyone wishing to convert to another religion would be required to give at least 30 days prior notice to the district government. If they fail to give the notice, they would face a fine of 1,000 rupees (US$23).

      Gospel for Asia's work in Himachal Pradesh began in 1999. GFA missionaries are involved in personal evangelism, church planting and film ministry. GFA Radio broadcasts programs in six languages spoken in the state. There is also a Bridge of Hope ministry and a Bible college in Himachal Pradesh.

      The Himachal Pradesh anti-conversion bill is unique in that it was created by members of the ruling Congress Party, which has opposed such legislation in the past. The leader of the Congress Party has spoken against similar previous legislation, which was always introduced by anti-Christian groups who had gained a majority in state assemblies. These groups view the Hindu faith as an integral part of India's collective identity and see other faiths, especially Christianity and Islam, as threats to the national personality of India. Proponents of anti-conversion legislation contend that when Indian people become Christians or Muslims, it creates rifts that threaten to disintegrate Indian society by disturbing its social structure.

      At least 80 percent of India's 1 billion people are Hindu. Muslims make up 13 percent of the population, and professing Christians account for 3 percent. In Himachal Pradesh, there are an estimated 8,000 Christians.

      Ironically, these anti-conversion laws thrive even though the country's constitution guarantees freedom of religion. The anti-conversion laws at the state level are mostly approved by higher Indian courts because of decades-old laws that were created to keep low-caste Hindus within the fold of that religion.

      Higher court judges have also voiced their opinion that conversions could result in a breach of public order and that state legislatures have the right to enact laws that avoid disturbances within the community. Thousands of Dalits-the "Untouchables" in the caste system-are leaving the Hindu faith to escape its oppression.

      Anti-conversion laws, known locally as "Freedom of Religion" acts, are also in force in the states of Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat and Arunachal Pradesh. Elected officials in Rajasthan and Jharkhand have approved anti-conversion legislation, but the bills have yet to be signed into law. Tamil Nadu had an anti-conversion law, but it was repealed in 2004.

      The laws target what is termed as conversion to another religion by "allurement" or "force." Under the provisions of these laws, actions such as social ministry among the poor or sick are considered allurement. Discussion of eternal destiny as a consequence of sin is considered "force."
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