Christians in India say a new anti-conversion law passed in the state of Karnataka, will infringe on the freedom of religion guaranteed by the Indian constitution.
The legislation, known as the anti-conversion bill, was passed by the Karnataka Legislative Assembly last year, but it was not brought before the upper house Council, where the ruling BJP then lacked a majority, until this year, after the party secured 40 of the Council’s 75 seats.
The BJP party, which also holds power at the national level, is aligned with a Hindu nationalist organization, and has been passing anti-conversion bills – targeting the country’s Muslim and Christian minorities – in state legislatures it controls.
The law allows for a prison term of up to five years for an “illegal” conversion, which can extend to 10 years if it involves a minor.
Hindu nationalists have been stoking fears over “illegal conversion” for years, and claim Christian groups use their social services – church organisations are overrepresented compared to their percentage of the population in the educational, health, and charitable sectors in India – to illicitly convert Hindus, especially those belonging to the marginalised lower castes.