Religious nationalism India | 02 April 2024

India: New law in Assam targets Christian evangelism

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As reported in the Hindustan Times on 26 February 2024, the BJP-ruled Assam government led by Hemanta Biswa Sarma passed a bill called the Assam Healing (Prevention of Evil) Practices Act, 2024. The stated objective of this new Act is to prevent traditional healing with ulterior motives. According to an Indian Express report dated 22 February 2024, in mid-February just days before tabling the bill, Chief Minister Sarma had stated that the aim of the bill is to curb evangelism, claiming that healing is used to ‘convert tribal people’ to Christianity.

The penalty for offenders ranges from one to three years along with a fine of Rs. 50,000 (approxi-mately 600 USD). Repeat offenders may be imprisoned for up to five years with a fine of Rs. 100,000 (approximately 1200 USD). The Act authorizes police officers to enter and inspect places where they believe an offence has been committed or even “likely to be committed”.

World Watch Research analyst Ryan Benjamin comments: “The Assam Chief Minister has been projecting himself as a radical and strong Hindu leader not just for Assam but for the entire North-Eastern region with a significant Christian population. With the general elections due to be held in April 2024, the BJP is looking to polarize Assamese society along religious lines hoping to consolidate Hindu voters against Christians (and Muslims). The overly broad definitions of ‘evil practices’ and ‘healing practices’ in the Act will open the way for police officers to intimidate and harass Christians and their places of worship since police are authorized to enter and inspect places where healing is ‘likely to be committed’. Further, sweeping powers now held by the police under this Act will in turn create self-censorship and fear amongst the Christian communities in Assam.”


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