By BosNewsLife News Center
NEW DELHI, INDIA (BosNewsLife) — Devoted Christians in India's northern state of Himachal Pradesh, including missionary workers and church leaders, ushered in the New Year Monday, January 1, amid fears of persecution after law makers introduced legislation banning "forced" religious conversions.
The Global Council of Indian Christians(GCIC), a major advocacy group, said it fears the law could be used "to appease radical Hindus at the expense of the Christian community."
Under the legislation, persons who had forced "or induced" someone to change his or her religion would be liable for punishment. There were fears however that the law would be open for interpretation and target missionary workers and other preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Evangelical Christians have argued that "forced conversions" are against the Bible as God has given people a free will to either choose for Christ or reject him.
The, "GCIC fears that this bill is a ploy to attack Christian minorities under the guise of conversion," GCIC President Sajan K . George told BosNewsLife in a statement.
"In the whole of India there is not a single conviction on the basis of forced conversion by Christians," George added. "This legislation is invading the conscience of independent beings and is violating of the rights guaranteed by the United Nations and the constitution of India." He said it could also further increase violent attacks against Indian Christians.
"Year 2006 witnessed over 200 attacks against Christians" while five were killed because of their faith in Christ, he said. The Congress-led government in Himachal Pradesh and parliamentarians apparently passed the law Friday, December 29, during a four-day winter session.
The opposition Hindu-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) welcomed the law after similar moves elsewhere in India. In recent months, five states ruled by the BJP or its allies introduced or strengthened anti-conversion laws, saying they "protect India's religious identity" and foster communal harmony.
George and other leading investigators in India have suggested or however that in practice Hindu militants accuse especially Christian missionaries of converting poor Hindus with inducements such as free schooling and health care.
Christians, who have long advocated for the rights of Dalits, say those who switch their faith do so to escape the oppressive caste system amongst Hindus. The Dalits, who constitute over 16 per cent of India's 1.1 billion population, are considered "untouchables" under India's ancient system of Hinduism. They often face discrimination, and human rights groups say they often perform degrading jobs.
Although officially banned, the caste system discrimination persists in villages, Christians say. Hindus comprise roughly 80 per cent of India's population, while Christians make up less than three per cent, according to estimates. (With BosNewsLife Monitoring and reports from India).
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