Christian leaders in India have been outraged by comments by a government minister comparing religious conversion to exchanging sex for favors.
Pratap Chandra Sarangi, who serves as the Minister of State for Animal Husbandry in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s new cabinet, was speaking in an interview with ThePrint.
“Suppose somebody helped a girl in a medical or engineering college and wanted to enjoy the girl physically. That would be treated as a crime, an inhuman act. Similarly, if somebody wants to convert or exploit someone’s belief by giving some service or money, then that should also be treated as a crime – a crime against nature, a crime against humanity,” he said.
“Conversion has been done throughout the country through fraud, force or allure. This is illegal and subject to punishment under this law,” Sarangi said.
Hindu nationalists often accuse Christians of using force and surreptitious tactics in pursuing conversions, often storming into villages and leading “reconversion” ceremonies in which Christians are compelled to perform Hindu rituals.
India’s 6-week long general election ended in late May, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) winning 303 of 542 seats in the lower house of parliament. The party’s closest rival, the long-dominant Indian National Congress, won only 52 seats, with party leader Rahul Gandhi losing his seat in parliament to his BJP rival.
The BJP has strong links to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a militant Hindu nationalist organization. Religious minorities have complained of increased harassment since the party first took power in 2014 on a Hindu-first platform.
Incidents of harassment against Christians and other religious minorities have increased over the past five years across India, with various Christians being detained or arrested for “attempted conversion,” and places of worship being vandalized.
Several states have anti-conversion laws, despite the fact India’s national constitution guarantees freedom of religion.
Father Ajaya Kumar Singh is a human rights activist and the former secretary of the Church’s justice and peace commission for the Orissa region, the home of Sarangi.