Missionary’s arrest in UP is why Christians must drop support for ‘love jihad’ laws

Historically, anti-conversion laws began in India targeting Christian missionaries and after a brief diversion they seem to be doing it again
Missionary’s arrest in UP is why Christians must drop support for ‘love jihad’ laws

Uttar Pradesh police have arrested a Christian missionary group — comprising of three ladies including a South Korean native, and one man — under the charge of participating in forced religious conversions in Noida. This follows in suit of the latest anti-conversion law (dubbed the ‘love jihad’ law by critics) in the state. The police alleged that the missionary group had offered people food and money as a “lure” to convert them.

While many had claimed that Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s law was specifically aimed at the Muslim community and interfaith marriages, a set of political historians feel that it could affect the Christian community as well. They were looking at the historical examples especially the incident of the Australian missionary Dr Graham Staines and his two sons on January 23, 1999.

The matter is important since certain Christian groups have come forward claiming support for the ‘love jihad law’ as well as alleging Muslim men of “stealing” Hindu and Christian girls. Much before the whole controversial anti-conversion law came to be debated, in January of this year a forum of Catholic Bishops in Kerala had alleged that scores of Christian girls are “lured into the IS traps through ‘love jihad’. The synod of Syro-Malabar Church headed by Cardinal George Alenchery had made the allegation, which also included that the police had not taken any action in this regard.

The synod would go on to level more allegations, but the important point is that throughout the country, many Christian communities had welcomed the anti-conversion law failing to see the larger point of the states and the party that launched the law. If the people are to consider the historic aspects of the anti-conversion rule, then Christian communities have to be more scared of than Muslims.

Graham Staines didn’t die from sickness or old age — he was burned to his death inside the steel trap of his car, alongside his two sons aged 11 and 8, in Odisha. The criminal act was perpetrated by a Hindu right-wing group who, according to witnesses, shouted ‘Bajrang Dal zindabad’ as they poured paraffin on Staines’ car and burned them. The incident sent shockwaves across continents, and the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had to condemn the act. As the police began to arrest the perpetrators — ranging to above 40 in number — a clear picture of why they had done it began to appear. They alleged the murdered Staines of forcefully converting tribals to Christianity, which many experts believe was the arsonists’ political reason rather than ideological.

Australian missionary Graham Staines (right end) and his family before he and his sons (also in picture) were burned to death by right-wing Hindu extremists
Australian missionary Graham Staines (right end) and his family before he and his sons (also in picture) were burned to death by right-wing Hindu extremistsWikimedia Commons

Historically, the first of the anti-conversion rules to emerge in India at the end of 60s was aimed at Christian missionaries. Madhya Pradesh and Odisha brought out legislation against forced conversions in 1967 and 1968, both aimed at Christian missionaries. One of the fundamental problems was the fact that MP and Odisha had some of the largest Scheduled Tribes population and the missionaries allegedly targeted them. The rule became increasingly popular in the country spreading to Arunachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Gujarat — all aimed at Christian missionaries and their alleged conversions. Chhattisgarh retained the law even after splitting from Madhya Pradesh. Tamil Nadu passed the law in 2002-3 but repealed it in 2004. Gujarat passed it but didn’t implement it in full capacity.

In the Kerala example, despite historic examples of religious conversion especially the Hindu minorities moving towards Islam and Christianity, there never have been any law against religious conversion. Moreover, matters pertaining to it were dealt with using respective aspects of the Indian Penal Code and it was handled as legal (civil and criminal) rather than a political or ideological issue. However, while religious conversion had cropped up in the past few years, it is aimed at the Muslim community using the ‘love jihad’ angle that right-wing parties love to throw around.

However, regardless of the situations, support to the ‘love-jihad’ law from the Christian communities is not exactly the smart move here, especially considering how they are targeted as well. While returning to their old laws, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan had alleged Christian communities of forcefully converting tribals. Reportedly, while the state government has planned to bring their anti-conversion law into place, it will be targeting both Muslims and Christians. So, remembering and paraphrasing the immortal words of the German pastor Martin Niemöller, ‘speak up for others or there won’t be anyone left to speak for you’.

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