02/23/2021, 12.58
INDIA
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Bishop of Bhopal: anti-conversion laws push people to seek out more about Christianity

by Nirmala Carvalho

Anti-conversion laws are not “deterring people”. Many, “including lay Hindus, ask us why the government is so afraid of Christianity,” said Archbishop Leo Cornelio. These laws “are instruments of persecution targeting Christians,” explained Sajan K George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians”.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – The Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Ordinance, 2020, which regulates interfaith marriages and religious conversions, was published in the Official Gazette on 9 January 2021.

Within a month, 28 people, at least half of them Christians, were charged under the new regulation, this according to police records.

The purpose of the Ordinance is to stop forced religious conversions under the pretext of marriage, the use of force, misrepresentation or other fraudulent means, the government claims.

Under the new regulation, a person who wants to convert of their own free will, and the cleric who carries out the conversion, must notify the district officer at least 60 days before the scheduled conversion date.

Speaking to AsiaNews, Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal said that “This is not deterring people. The ordinance has positive effects, since many people, including lay Hindus, ask us, why the government is so afraid of Christianity, why the authorities interfere in people's most innermost choice and conscience”.

“It is important to underline that many of our non-religious friends ask us ‘what attracts people to the faith’. More and more people are puzzled by the fear that the authorities have towards the Christian religion. Many of our friends from the majority religion ask us these questions.”

“Christianity attracts people. But many in prominent positions are providing us with census data, which disproves any surge in the number of Christians in the country; yet the existing anti-conversion law of 1968 has been made more stringent.”

AsiaNews asked Archbishop Cornelio if any adult baptisms are planned at the Easter vigil. “All laws and rules will be followed; all legal procedures will be taken. If there is a genuine case of adult baptism, a legal consent will be obtained. Minor conversions are not allowed in the Catholic Church.”

“Secondly, candidates must give a legal affidavit, with all the declarations, and undergo two years of Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) training and only then will the adult baptism take place.

“Adult baptisms are celebrated in the spring, and yes, we will have them in our archdiocese. Perhaps not at Easter vigil due to COVID-19 restrictions. We are not sure of our services in Holy Week, but yes, we shall have adult baptisms.”

For Sajan K George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), “About 67 per cent of Christians arrested under the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Ordinance, 2020 belong to Pentecostal communities, which are the most vulnerable groups.”

“The anti-conversion laws are made even more stringent with this new ordinance. They are instruments of persecution targeting Christians. False and fabricated conversion charges are made especially when people gather to worship in churches or private homes.”

“In secular India, freedom of religion is guaranteed by the constitution; yet tiny Christian communities are falsely accused of conversion . . . At Lent, in particular, right-wing vigilante groups monitor Christian services, in particular the Way of the Cross, and ridicule and mock Christians who could not save themselves but were crucified.

“These antisocial elements intimidate the people who go to the celebrations. The lockdown and pandemic have not stopped these right-wing extremists, who continue to disrupt services, use physical and verbal abuse, create legal jeopardy and issue false accusation of conversion. The lumpen elements enjoy a free run in their anti-Christian hostilities at a troubled time, that of the pandemic.”

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