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Indian Christians deny 'magical healing' accusations

Denial comes after Assam state approves bill prohibiting miracle healing practices it says are used to convert people
Catholics pray at the Christ the King festival procession in New Delhi on Nov. 20, 2022. Christian leaders in the northeastern state of Assam have denied accusations of attempting to convert people through 'magical healing' by praying for the sick and disabled.

Catholics pray at the Christ the King festival procession in New Delhi on Nov. 20, 2022. Christian leaders in the northeastern state of Assam have denied accusations of attempting to convert people through 'magical healing' by praying for the sick and disabled. (Photo supplied)

Published: February 16, 2024 09:41 AM GMT
Updated: February 16, 2024 11:26 AM GMT

Christian leaders in the northeastern Indian state of Assam on Feb. 15 condemned accusations by the state government that Christians are attempting to convert people through "magical healing" by praying for the sick and disabled to be cured.

The condemnation comes after Assam's cabinet approved a bill on Feb. 10 prohibiting magical healing — healing through natural forces thought to be beyond scientific explanation — in the name of treatment for congenital problems, such as deafness, blindness, and other disabilities.

Speaking to reporters on Feb. 12, Himanta Biswa Sarma, the state chief minister, said his government wanted to introduce the legislation to curb evangelism in the state.

The Assam Healing (Prevention of Evil) Practices Bill prescribes imprisonment and fines for violators and is expected to be tabled in the state assembly soon.

“Magical healing is a dicey subject used to convert tribal people,” said Sarma on Feb. 12.

“Let Muslims remain Muslims, Christians remain Christians, and Hindus remain Hindus.” said the chief minister who is from the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“We want to curb evangelism in Assam,” Sarma added.

The comments drew an angry response from Christian leaders on Feb 15. 

“The assertion that Christians engage in magical healing is misguided and misleading,” said the Assam Christian Forum (ACF).

“Prayer is a universal practice across religions, used to invoke divine intervention. Labeling it as magical healing oversimplifies the profound spiritual dimensions of faith and life,” the ACF said in a statement, signed by Archbishop John Moolachira of Guwahati and Reverend Chowaram Daimari, general secretary of the ACF.

“We find Sarma’s statement misguided and needless,” said Allen Brooks, spokesperson of the ACF.

It is reported that many poor Hindus are attracted to Christianity because of supposed miracle healing practiced by evangelists and Pentecostal missions. Miracle healing is popular in northern India and the northeast.

“Healing in our context is not synonymous with proselytization. It is a compassionate response to human sufferings, irrespective of religious affiliations,” Archbishop Moolachira said. 

Healing through prayer or medical intervention transcends religious boundaries, the prelate observed in a statement on Feb. 15.

"Our numerous dispensaries and hospitals operate within the recognized medical framework, providing essential services to the sick,” the prelate added.

The prelate said that Article 25 of the Constitution guarantees the right to practice one’s religion. The accusation against Christians undermines this constitutional right.

Eleven provincial states, most of them ruled by the pro-Hindu party and located in northern and central India, have enacted a draconian anti-conversion law to curb religious conversion. Though Assam has been ruled by the BJP since 2016 the bordering state is yet to piece together the sweeping law.

Hindu groups vehemently oppose any move by Christians to convert tribal people and former untouchables (Dalits) who are grouped under Hinduism under India's constitution. India's constitution allows the right to practice one’s religion and Christians run many healthcare facilities and educational facilities as part of their minority rights, guaranteed by the constitution. 

All three of India's Christian majority states  — Nagaland (87.93 percent) Mizoram (87.16 percent), and Meghalaya (74.59 percent) — are among the seven northeastern states. Christians have a strong presence in two other northeastern states — Manipur (41.29 percent) and Arunachal Pradesh (30.26 percent).

In Assam, Christians make up 3.74 percent of the state's 31 million people, higher than the national average of 2.3 percent.

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