Chief Minister Pema Khandu of Arunachal Pradesh, India, told an assembly of Catholics in June he would introduce legislation to repeal the state’s Freedom of Religion Act.
Khandu made the unexpected admission that the law “is probably targeted towards Christians,” according to World Watch Monitor. The Hindu reported it was established in 1978 to “check proselytization.”
“Any misuse of the law leading to torture of people could trigger large-scale violence in the state and could break Arunachal into pieces,” Khandu said.
The misnamed law makes the state the arbiter of religious conversions and prohibits “forced” conversions through inducement, fraud, or coercion. Although a majority Christian state, Arunachal Pradesh is one of eight Indian states with such laws. Hindu radicals often use the laws to falsely accuse Christians or excuse violence against them.
International Christian Concern regional manager William Stark said Christians in India reacted with both hopeful excitement and cynicism.
“Some people see it as pandering to Christians ahead of the national elections,” Stark said.
Khandu, a Buddhist, leads Arunachal Pradesh’s Hindu nationalist BJP party—the same party as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Under BJP rule, persecution against Indian Christians has risen dramatically as Hindu radicals have felt emboldened to persecute with impunity.
“The majority of Christians I talk to say it is getting worse,” Stark said. —Julia A. Seymour