The archbishop is president of the North East India Regional Bishops’ Council, a Catholic body of more than a dozen bishops. His Guwahati archdiocese is based in the largest city of the state of Assam, where Catholics are a small minority.
“We do not object to the government’s move to find the details of institutions of different religions but let it be of every religion and not of Christians alone,” Moolachira said. “If after mature thought, if one plans to change his religion, let him have that freedom. Does not the Constitution allow that?”
Eight of India’s 29 states have passed anti-conversion laws, aimed at preventing conversions from Hinduism to minority religions by “force” or “inducement.” These laws and related accusations have drawn criticism from India’s religious minorities and from an official U.S advisory body.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s 2021 annual report discusses matters of concern in India, including concerns about the anti-conversion laws. These laws, the report said, aim “to protect the dominant religion from perceived threats from religious minorities.”
“These anti-conversion laws are too often the basis for false accusations, harassment, and violence against non-Hindus that occur with impunity,” said the report. Last year, mob violence inspired by “false accusations of forced conversions” attacked Christians, destroyed churches, and disrupted religious services.
In many cases, the commission said, officials failed to prevent abuses and ignored or declined to investigate perpetrators of attacks.
The U.S. religious freedom commission is a bipartisan U.S. government commission that monitors religious freedom issues abroad. It makes policy recommendations to the U.S. President, the Secretary of State, and Congress.
Its 2021 report recommended that India and 13 other countries be designated a “country of particular concern,” a designation which allows expanded policy options to the U.S. State Department, including sanctions.
The Karnataka actions drew other objections from northeast India.
“Nobody can forcefully convert anyone,” Taw Tebin, president of the Arunachal Pradesh Catholic Association, told EastMojo. “It is not the Christians doing ‘forcible conversion.’ It is the government that is doing the forcible conversion by imposing something that is not tenable to the Constitution and detrimental to the secular fabrics of our country.”
The United Christian Forum of North East India has also rejected the bill. Its spokesperson, Allen Brooks, said, “What is happening in the country challenges the whole Constitution. I am Indian not because of my religion, but because of my birth and my Constitution. What is happening in Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh these days is a way to dilute that constitutional the rights of everyone in the country.”
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Brooks linked the proposal to the upcoming elections saying, “Why such issues are raked up before every crucial election? This is not because of the forcible conversion but because elections are around the corner.”
“Such issues would divide the people on religious lines and they forget the real issues affecting the country,” he said. These election politics come “at the cost of hurting the religious sentiment of the peace-loving Christian community in the country.”
Sister Euginia Laloo, social communications director of the Salesian Sisters in Meghalaya state, was also critical.
“This is sad that Christians, who make a significant contribution to nation-building with education and health care services, are constantly under attack from government and fringe groups across the country,” said Laloo, who worried the action would encourage extremism.
“Such moves will win you votes, but at what cost?” she asked.
Machado had previously worried that the survey would lead to priests, religious sisters, and church workers being unfairly targeted.