A prominent Indian bishop is speaking out against his country’s crackdown on freedom of religion as another state passed anti-conversion laws.
Joseph D’Souza, moderating bishop of the Good Shepherd Church and president of the All India Christian Council, warns the legislation will ‘sully the image of India globally’ and foster division not unity.
It comes after the state government in Jharkhand, northern India, joined seven others in passing a new ‘freedom of religion bill’ which D’Souza described as a ‘cleverly disguised anti-conversion law’ in an article for the Washington Times.
‘A majoritarian political appeasement and religious homogeneity, which the anti-conversion laws promote, is a step toward division, not unity,’ he writes. ‘These bills increase local misuse of the law and attacks on Christians and churches by extremists. They sully the image of India globally.’
He accuses both President Nahendra Modi’s BJP and Congress parties of supporting these laws which mean anyone found guilty of the vague crime of converting people could be sentenced to a minimum three years in jail.
‘Barring the general justification that these laws are intended to protect vulnerable people from fraudulent conversion through “allurement” or “coercion,” there’s no doubt the primary suspects and assumed perpetrators are Christians’ he writes.
‘Implicit in the anti-conversion laws is the assumption that there’s a foreign Christian agenda to convert Indians and that the tribals and Dalits — also known as “untouchables” — are especially susceptible to conversion schemes.
‘Perhaps the anti-conversion laws stem out of a suspicion against Christianity based on the history of colonial British rule; or perhaps they’re fueled out of a fear that religion will split the country, as it did during the India-Pakistan partition.’
But he goes on to say Christians do not condone forced or fake conversions and themselves promote people’s right to choose their faith.
‘There’s no schism between being a Christian and an Indian,’ he writes, arguing India’s booming economy will be hindered unless religious freedom is instilled.
It comes after he told Christian Today there was a lot of colonial baggage associated with Christianity in India and at the heart of the BJP’s Hindu nationalism is a concern for the unity and integrity of India.
The overwhelming fear is of another split, like the 1947 partition to form the Pakistan-India border that left more than 1 million people dead in savage inter-communal rioting and massacres, he said.
‘At the heart of the colonial baggage is the dis-membership of India based on religion,’ he told Christian Today.
‘Unfortunately movements for independence are in the north where there are also many Christians.
‘What right-wing Hindu groups in India fear is if Christians grow there will be another Pakistan.’
But he insists Indian Christians like himself want to be part of a unified India. ‘We never again want another Pakistan.
‘Extremist elements of Hinduism have to be very careful they themselves do not polarise India on the basis of religion.’