New Delhi, April 10: An Indian state has banned proselytizing using force or inducement, a law critics fear will be used to target Christians and other minorities, newspapers reported Saturday.
The offense can be punished with up to five years in prison and a fine of rupees 50,000 ($1,136, euro946) under the new legislation passed by the Hindu nationalist government of the western Indian state of Rajasthan, a leading daily said.
Similar laws have been used to harass, imprison or run out Christian missionaries in five other Indian states, all ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party, or its allies.
Hard-line Hindu groups accuse missionaries from other religions of luring poor people away from Hinduism - India's largest faith -through offers of money, education, health care or through coercion.
In these states, Hindu extremists have in the past attacked Christian churches because of allegations of forced conversions.
Churches have denied that anyone can be coerced or bribed to change his or her personal religious beliefs.
The Rajasthan government had found that some religious groups, and other institutions, were involved in unlawful conversion from one religion to another by allurement, fraudulent means or forcibly, Gulab Chand Kataria, state home minister told the assembly before the law was approved.
"In the last two years, there were attempts to convert poor and illiterate people in the state," the paper quoted Kataria as saying.
The law was adopted after noisy protests by opposition Congress and Communist party lawmakers, who then walked out of the house in protest. The house approved the new legislation in the absence of the opposition.
Congress party lawmakers said the state government created the legislation to target minority communities. Christian and Muslim groups said the law was aimed at their right to propagate their faith.
Hindus form 84 per cent of India's more than 1.2 billion population, Muslims 13 per cent, and Christians 2.4 per cent.
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