USCIRF has called for repealing the laws to comply with the global human rights regime of which India is a signatory
Indian Christians protest against rising hate crimes against them in New Delhi on Feb. 19. (Photo: Bijay Kumar Minj/UCA News)
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has called for the repeal of anti-conversion laws in India that have been enacted by state governments and often misused to prosecute Christians in the country.
The commission, a US federal government entity, on March 14 said in its latest report, compiled after an extensive study, that the sweeping anti-conversion laws in India are inconsistent with the international human rights regime. More Indian states are considering introducing such laws, it added.
The commission has recommended that the US State Department designate India as a country of “particular concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act.
According to the report, anti-conversion laws are in force in 12 of India’s 28 states.
“The anti-conversion laws also worsen religious freedom conditions in India, which are already poor,” the report said.
“Such laws enable and embolden existing government harassment, vigilante violence, and discrimination against religious minorities, as well as crackdowns on civil society organizations,” it noted.
It has also stressed the need for repealing these laws to comply with international human rights treaties to which India is a signatory.
The report comes at a time when the top court in the country is examining the constitutional validity of the anti-conversion laws enacted by 12 states, most of them ruled by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The case will come up for hearing in the Supreme Court before a bench headed by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud on March 17.
“The US panel report on India’s anti-conversion laws reflects the reality in India,” said Father Cedric Prakash, a Jesuit rights activist based in Gujarat state, the home state of Modi which too has enacted an anti-conversion law.
The priest is one of the signatories to the petition filed by Citizens for Justice and Peace in the Supreme Court against the anti-conversion laws.
“We have raised the same issues in the top court,” the priest told UCA News on March 16, and added, “India should not shy away from extending religious freedom to its people.”
“India and the US are signatories of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International Convents on Civil and Political Rights and therefore, the anti-conversion laws in the country have to comply with them,” Father Prakash asserted.
“Seven states,” said the USCIRF report, “provide that individuals accused of violating an anti-conversion law must prove their innocence,” in violation of international human rights laws.
Citing the example of the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh’s Freedom of Religion Act, 2021, the report said, “The burden of proof as to whether a conversion was not effected through misrepresentation, allurement, use of force, threat of force, undue influence, coercion or by marriage or any other fraudulent means…lies on the accused.”
The BJP runs the government in Madhya Pradesh.
“International human rights law prohibits individuals accused of crimes from being presumed guilty,” the report said.
According to the United Christian Forum, an inter-denominational group that monitors the persecution of Christians, there were 598 incidents of violence in 2022, which represents a 400 percent spike compared with 2014, when Modi first came to power in India.
Following the violence, often police cases are booked against Christians under anti-conversion laws, Christian leaders say.
India's federal government, led by the BJP under Modi, is yet to respond to the report.
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