India now has seven states with a law against religious conversions after the governor of Jharkhand state signed into effect a controversial bill the state legislature passed last month. Governor Draudpadi Murmu on Sept. 5 signed her approval despite protests from Christian groups and opposition parties, who said that such a law was needless and targets Christian missionaries. The controversial Jharkhand Freedom of Religion Act 2017 criminalizes religious conversion from one religion to another by use of force or allurement or by fraudulent means. It also stipulates that those wanting to convert should seek government permission. Violators face jail terms and fines. All seven Catholic bishops in the state, led by Cardinal Telesphore Toppo of Ranchi, had met Murmu Aug. 22 urging her to reject the bill. Catholic leaders such as Prabhaakr Tirkey said the state government run by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party pushed for the law to provide hard-line Hindus with a tool to work against Christian missionaries as they work to make India a Hindu-only state. He said Hindu nationalists misinterpret Christian missionary services of health care and education as allurement and fraudulent means for conversions as they accuse missionaries of converting local people to Christianity. Such laws already exist in six other states — Madhya Pradesh, Chhattsigarh, Gujarat, Odisha, Himachal Pradesh and Arunachal Pradesh.
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