The ability of Gospel for Asia missionaries to share Christ is once again at risk in the northern Indian state of Rajasthan. At issue is a proposed anti-conversion law, which has been bounced between government officials at various levels since April 2005.
The Rajasthan state assembly, which is controlled by a Hindu political party, created the anti-conversion bill-which would place severe restrictions on the practice of Christianity-in early 2005. They sent it to Rajasthan Governor Prathibha Patil, who refused to sign it into law. She has gone on record saying the bill is at odds with the fundamental religious freedom outlined in the Indian Constitution. She also expressed concern about certain provisions of the bill, which she believes are too vague and would prevent even humanitarian work by non-Hindu groups, especially Christians.
Rather than sign the bill, she advised the Rajasthan state assembly to send it to Indian President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam for review. Unfortunately, the president returned the bill unchanged to the Rajasthan state assembly, which approved it a second time, then sent it back to the governor.
Governor Patil is now exercising her right to withhold the bill indefinitely. Unhappy with this tactic, the assembly is pushing her to sign the bill into law. Reports indicate, however, that the governor does not plan to bow to the pressure.
There is no legal precedent for how long Governor Patil can stall the bill. However, scholars say that once a bill has been passed through the state assembly twice, it is generally accepted policy for a governor to give it the stamp of approval.
Governor Patil is Hindu, but she has been exposed to Christianity. She does not harbor hostility towards Christians as some of her more radical Hindu peers do. One of the goals of her administration has been to move Rajasthan, which is 90 percent Hindu, toward a more secular government.
At least seven other Indian states already have anti-conversion laws or bills pending. However, the proposed Rajasthan law is among the most restrictive. The proposed law would impose a $1,000 fine and/or two to five years in prison for anyone who attempts to convert to another religion through what the Hindu government officials term “allurement, force or deceit.”
Gospel for Asia-affiliated churches in Rajasthan could lose their official state recognition if they participate in what the government deems “illegal religious conversions” under the provisions of the bill.
Critics of the law, which include human rights organizations and even some Indian political parties, say the bill is slanted heavily in favor of the Hindu religion. Under the terms of the agreement, it would not be illegal for someone to convert from another religion to Hinduism, only from Hinduism to another religion, such as Christianity or Islam.
Under the proposed bill a Hindu who adopts another religion can turn back to the Hinduism. However, a person of another faith who converts to Hinduism cannot turn back to their previous faith.
GFA leaders in Rajasthan are clinging to the Bible’s promise in Romans 8:28 “…we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” They are fervently praying for God’s will to be done in this legal matter.
The leaders ask for prayer specifically for God’s intervention in the process so that what the enemy is planning to bring against God’s work and His people will never become a reality. Also pray for protection for the 95 GFA pastors and nearly 2,000 Christians who attend GFA Believers churches in Rajasthan.