The Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled Arunachal Pradesh may lift a 40-year-old anti-conversion law to uphold secularism.
Chief Minister Pema Khandu on Thursday said his government could repeal the Arunachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, an anti-conversion law, that the frontier State’s Assembly has passed in 1978 primarily to check proselytisation. Uttarakhand enacted a similar law in May this year.
“The anti-conversion law could undermine secularism and is probably targeted towards Christians,” Mr. Khandu said while addressing Prem Milan, a function organised by the Arunachal Pradesh Catholic Association at a church in Banderdewa, the gateway to State capital Itanagar.
Mr. Khandu assured that the law would be brought before the next Assembly session for repeal as it “could be misused by irresponsible officials.”
“Any misuse of the law leading to torture of people could trigger large-scale violence in the State and could break Arunachal into pieces,” Mr. Khandu said at the function marking the 10th death anniversary of Reverend Brother Prem Bhai.
A Benedictine missionary who endured repeated arrest, imprisonment, beatings and wore disguises to evangelise in Arunachal Pradesh, Prem Bhai died on June 28, 2008 in Colombo, Sri Lanka. He worked as a missionary in Arunachal Pradesh for almost 25 years despite laws entailed two years of imprisonment and fine of ₹10,000.
Rise of Christianity
Today, Christians account for more than half the population in Arunachal Pradesh.
Census data say there were no Christians in North East Frontier Province, as the State was called then, in 1951. By 2001, Christians were the third largest religious group accounting for 18.7% of the State’s population, behind Hindus (34.6%) and ‘others’, mostly Donyi-Polo (30.7%).
According to the 2011 census, Christianity has overtaken Hinduism as the State’s largest religion. Christians – most of them Roman Catholics – account for 30.26% of the State’s 1.3 million people while Hindus are now 29.04%.
Though Arunachal Pradesh had 5.56% fewer Hindus in 2011 than in 2001, traditionalists were more worried by the 4.5% drop in the number of followers of Donyi-Polo and other indigenous faiths.
Arunachal was the third State after Odisha (1967) and Madhya Pradesh (1968) to enact an anti-conversion law. Chhattisgarh in 2000, Gujarat in 2003, Himachal Pradesh in 2007 and Rajasthan in 2008 also passed anti-conversion laws, prohibiting forced or money-induced conversions.