10/29/2021 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that the Allahabad High Court, located in India’s Uttar Pradesh state, has once again delayed hearing a challenge to the constitutionality of the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Act, 2021. The court delay comes as religious minorities in Uttar Pradesh face a wave of persecution perpetrated by radical Hindu nationalists abusing the law being challenged in the court.
The Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Act, 2021, commonly called an anti-conversion law, was enacted by the Uttar Pradesh Legislative Assembly on February 23, 2021. The law replaced an anti-conversion ordinance enacted by the executive branch of Uttar Pradesh in November 2020.
The anti-conversion law allows the state government to regulate all religious conversions and criminalizes forced religious conversions.
According to the text of the law, forceful religious conversions are punished by a jail term of one to five years and a fine of 15,000 rupees. However, forceful religious conversions of minors, women, or members of low caste communities are punished by a jail term of three to 10 years and a fine of 50,000 rupees.
Since the law was enacted, Christians and Muslims in Uttar Pradesh have endured an unprecedented wave of persecution. Since late-June, ICC has documented at least 56 incidents of religiously motivated violence taking place in Uttar Pradesh justified by the enactment of the anti-conversion law. In many cases, Christian victims are arrested on false forced conversion charges after being attacked by radical Hindu nationalists and taken to prison.
“We are left with sleepless nights due to the aggressive hate campaign of the right-wing activists,” a Christian leader from Varanasi told ICC. “We are getting news of Christians being attacked and arrested from all corners of the state. At least we hoped the plea to repeal the law would give us some breather. Sadly, it is being delayed again.”
A public interest litigation (PIL) was filed by social activist Anand Malviya challenging the constitutionality of the anti-conversion law. According to that challenge, the anti-conversion law has been described as unconstitutional and unnecessary. The plea claims that the law goes against the basic spirit of India’s constitution, which provides Indian citizens with religious freedom under Article 25, and further claims the law could be “misused” politically.
Two other PILs have been filed against the anti-conversion law and all three challenges were referred to the Allahabad High Court for hearing. The Allahabad High Court, however, delayed hearing these challenges for a second time on October 22.
In states where similar anti-conversion laws are enacted, including Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttarakhand, they are widely abused. Radical nationalists falsely accuse Christians of forcefully converting individuals to Christianity to justify harassment and assault. Local police often overlook violence perpetrated against Christians due to false accusations of forced conversion.
Article 25 of India’s constitution, however, protects the rights of an individual to freely profess, practice, and propagate the religion of their choice. Anti-conversion laws limit this constitutional right by requiring individuals to have their conversions approved by the government. In addition to this, individuals from low caste backgrounds face the consequence of losing government benefits when converting from Hinduism to Christianity or Islam.
William Stark, ICC’s Regional Manager for South Asia, said, “We here at International Christian Concern are deeply concerned by the continued surge in persecution being reported from Uttar Pradesh. In the last four months, hundreds of Christians have been attacked by radical Hindu nationalists abusing the anti-conversion law. Pastors and other Christian leaders remain in prison on trumped up charges, leaving families vulnerable and without breadwinners. The court’s delay in hearing the challenges to the anti-conversion law is a problem. The current wave of persecution in Uttar Pradesh is being justified by a law where the constitutionality of that law is at question. The court must hear these challenges as soon as possible.”