Thursday, August 23, 2012

Pakistan considers anti-conversion laws; India's Christians concerned

(Photo courtesy of Mission India)

India (MNN) ― Shunned and hated in Pakistan, families who suffered through torture, kidnapping and increasing pressure to convert to Islam finally fled across the border to India.

The only difference is that instead of Christian families, those on the run were Hindu. That prompted a huge cry from the Indian government on their behalf.

Officially, the government's stance is that Pakistani Hindus arriving in India are on pilgrimage. However, this week, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari waded into the fray. After being briefed on the growing problem of mass migration, he told the Sindh government to amend the Constitution and write an "anti-conversion" law.

That is raising some alarms. Pakistan already has a "blasphemy" law which is frequently used to settle personal scores with Christians. Even though a new anti-conversion bill is supposed to protect minority religions, that's not how it's often enforced.  

On top of that, Dave Stravers with Grand Rapids, Michigan-basedMission India says if Pakistan comes up with its own "anti-conversion" law, it sets a precedent that neighboring states in India are likely to follow. Additionally, some Hindu leaders have grown more aware of the fast growth of Christians, especially in light of the Dalit Awakening in 2001. 

"They're worried that their culture is being eroded and their political influence, their power, is being eroded. So they want to stop it." 

Though India's constitution provides full religious freedom of worship and witness for all religions, there remains opposition. The rise of Hindutva extremism -- "India is Hindu only" -- resulted in hate campaigns against Christians and Muslims.

"Any law proposed in any India state will affect Christians first," Stravers notes. Harsh anti-conversion regulations in at least five states have done little to placate Hindu extremists. In many districts, the laws are often loosely worded and widely open to interpretation.  

In smaller villages, Christians are given a choice: reconvert to Hinduism, leave the village, or face death. The risk of violent mobs and riots exploding into days of rampage is high. Simmering tensions are threatening to explode with the smallest twitch. Stravers agrees, "Inter-religious conflict and inter-ethnic conflict in this (border) region is often violent.... It causes a lot of fear."

Yet, oppression has done little to stem the flow of the Gospel. Stravers marvels, "Christian workers have such a great deal of courage in the face of opposition." Pray that despite the intimidation and violence in many of India's states, Christians will unashamedly preach the Gospel.

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