Chief Minister to Seek Repeal of State Anti-Conversion Law in Arunachal Pradesh

Arunachal Pradesh in northeast India

ITANAGAR, ARUNACHAL PRADESH – Pema Khandu, the BJP Chief Minister of India’s northeastern-most state, Arunachal Pradesh, announced on 28 June 2018 that he would move to repeal the state’s Freedom of Religion Act of 1978 when parliament enters into its next session.

It is the Freedom of Religion act that contains the ban against “conversion from one religious faith to any other . . . by force or inducement.” The CM told listeners at the Kala Wangpo Convention Hall that “the law against conversions could undermine secularism and is probably targeted toward Christians.”

Khandu expressed his concern that the law “could be misused in [the] future by irresponsible officials . . . It could be used by a chief minister, chief secretary, or director general of police.

Furthermore, he said, “Any misuse of the law leading to the torture of people could trigger large-scale violence in the state and break Arunachal into pieces.

Freedom of religion is understood entirely differently in the United States than in India. In the U.S., it refers to the separation of church and state. That is, the people are free to worship as they please. That includes the freedom to choose to change one’s form of worship.

From a South Asian perspective, freedom of religion means that persons may not be proselytized. In other words, people are free to worship without interference from anyone else attempting to convince them that they should convert to another form of worship.

Should the legislation be enacted, and the anti-conversion law be repealed, Arunachal Pradesh would become the first state ruled by the national BJP to do so.

Census figures from 2011 (released in 2015) indicate that Christians comprise almost 30 percent of the state’s population, making Christians the largest faith group in the state.

Although some political opponents have accused Khandu of kowtowing to Christians, his chief critic, Takan Sanjoy, president of the Arunachal Pradesh Congress Committee, supported the chief minister’s move. “This is a historic announcement made by the chief minister. I congratulate him for taking such a bold decision. In a secular country like ours, there should be no place for an obsolete law like this. The Congress party stands behind the CM in this particular decision.”

Chief Minister Khandu is a Buddhist. It will be interesting to see how the motion is received in parliament.


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