Jharkhand’s Chief Minister-in-waiting, Hemant Soren has given a controversial statement which exposes the nefarious agenda that the government will pursue after being sworn in. In a telephonic interview with The Print, Soren has said that his government will review the anti-conversion law, that is, the Freedom of Religion Act, 2017 that was brought in during the tenure of Hemant Soren’s predecessor, Raghubar Das.
The said Act makes elaborate provisions for curbing forced conversions. It makes the act of forced religious conversion a non-bailable criminal offence. It is very important to understand the context of changing demographics in the state of Jharkhand in which the Act was enacted.
According to government data, the period of 2001-2011 witnessed a tremendous increase in the population graph of the state, but the most notable thing is that the population of Christians grew by a whopping 29.7%. The population of Muslims in the state grew by a massive 28.4% and the population of Hindus grew by 21%.
This was quite different from the overall increase of religions in India and it was more than evident that the manipulative and forced conversions of Hindus and tribals in the state to Christianity and Islam were going on a tremendous rate. Therefore, the Freedom of Religion Act, 2017 was enacted only to curb the mischief of forced religious conversion of vulnerable sections in the state. Tribals constitute 26 per cent of the total population of the state, while the Christian population has also grown considerably to 4.3 per cent, showing a sharp and worrisome change in demographics.
It ought to be mentioned here that the state of Jharkhand is one of the worst victims of Naxalism. It is also well established that funding Naxalites has been a large part of the missionaries’ agenda. Missionaries benefit from violence as they undertake massive conversion exercises in the garb of setting up relief camps. Jharkhand is a Naxal infested state which has also phased a considerable alteration in its demographics as emphasised earlier. Therefore, an anti-conversion law is critical for ensuring law and order, and development in the state. The fact remains that Naxalism, conversions and anti-development activism are all interrelated issues in the state and none of them can be tackled in isolation. If Jharkhand has to develop, it will have to break out of this nexus.
Modi government has tightened the noose on religious conversion through tightened FCRA norms. The introduction of FCRA has hit the religious conversion industry in India really hard as NGOs indulging in religious conversions in the garb of charity work have been severely affected. The FCRA norms now require NGO staff receiving foreign fund to declare that they were not prosecuted or convicted for converting the faith of any person. Such norms were well supplemented by the anti-conversion law in Jharkhand.
However, as of now, it seems that the newly elected JMM-Congress-RJD government will do to dust all the good work done by the Raghubar Das government in the state and the Modi government at the Centre. By repealing the critical legislation, the newly elected government might give a boost to suspicious activities that can cause communal divide and also strengthen the Naxal-Missionary nexus. This insidious nexus has been the nemesis of economic development in Jharkhand and with the newly elected government giving indications of reviewing it, Jharkhand might again be moving towards the era of Naxal-Missionary nexus that keeps the state deprived of development.