India has religious freedom


Legal situation on religious freedom and its actual application

There is no official state religion in India, and under current law, state institutions must treat all religions equally. Despite this legal reality, the relative proportion of the various religious communities in the total population is an extremely explosive political issue.

As of August 25, 2015, the 2010/2011 census data1 published on the religious affiliation of the Indian population sparked a lively debate in the country.2 According to the survey, the proportion of Hindus had decreased proportionally, the proportion of Muslims increased proportionately, and the number of Christians remained unchanged.3 The fact that the proportion of Hindus had fallen below the 80% mark has been discussed and commented on many times since then. Right-wing Hindu nationalist movements used the numbers as an opportunity to justify their struggle for an "India of the Hindus". Representatives of religious minorities, in turn, denounced the regular attacks on their communities.

Regardless of these demographic trends, India remains a democracy whose federal constitution from 1949 guarantees freedom of religion. According to Article 25, Paragraph 1, every citizen has the right to freedom of conscience and the right to profess a religion, to practice it and to spread it. According to Article 27, no one may be forced to pay taxes that are used to promote or finance a particular religious community. Article 28 stipulates that no religious education may be given in schools that are fully supported by state funds. According to Article 26, every religious community or subgroup of a religious community has the right to regulate its own religious affairs, to establish and manage institutions for religious or charitable purposes, and to own, acquire and manage property of any kind. Article 29 enshrines the right of all citizens of India to practice their own customs and languages. And, in accordance with Article 30, religious and linguistic minorities may establish and manage educational institutions of their choice.4

Within the framework of this federal constitutional order, the central state sets certain limits; this applies in particular to relationships that religious communities maintain with foreign countries. For many years now, India has barely issued visas for missionaries.5 Missionaries who have lived in the country for a long time can renew their residence and mission permits annually - the issuing of visas to new missionaries is a real exception, however. This also aims in a similar way Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA; Law on Foreign Funds) to control foreign donations to non-governmental organizations. Christian and Islamic organizations regularly bear the consequences of the associated restrictions.6

The change of religion is an extremely controversial issue from a legislative point of view. The debate about the need for an anti-conversion law at the federal level goes back at least to 1978 and has always been with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP; Indian People's Party) or its predecessor, the Janata party (People's Party), connected.7 The party leadership of the BJP occurs openly for the Hindutva-Ideology that the Indian nation is Hindu by nature. Recently, BJP ministers have repeatedly spoken out in favor of measures “to protect the Hindu religion”, which is allegedly threatened by the proliferation of religious minorities, particularly Muslims and Christians. In December 2014, the Minister for Parliamentary Affairs caused a stir when he called for anti-conversion legislation at the federal level.8 On March 23, 2015, Interior Minister Rajnath Singh called for a "national debate" on the issue and also insisted that a nationwide conversion ban was necessary.9 On April 15, 2015, the Ministry of Law and Justice published a statement that temporarily put an end to the efforts of the central government on the grounds that a federal law would be unconstitutional.10

So far, six of India's 29 federal states (and seven union territories) have passed anti-conversion laws: Before the state of Gujarat, the parliaments in Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha (formerly Orissa), Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh had already passed a corresponding law. Himachal Pradesh followed as did Tamil Nadu. In the latter state, which lies in the south of India and is home to numerous Christians, the law was soon repealed. In all cases, the anti-conversion laws - which criminalize both forced and “fraudulent” conversion - are based on the concept of defending “public order,” which is the jurisdiction of the states in the Indian Union.11

The opponents of a potential nationwide anti-conversion law are still causing headaches for New Delhi's legislative proposals. According to Navaid Hamid, secretary of the South Asian Council for Minorities (South Asian Council on Minorities) "the evil intentions of the central government to curtail freedom of religion and belief" are quite evident.12 According to Father Paul Thelakkat, spokesman for the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, India does not need any federal or state conversion laws: “There are already enough laws in this country to punish those who do disturb public order or social peace. "13 He goes on to say: "The BJP assumes that Hinduism will not survive contact with other religions, and therefore they are trying to build up a legislative defense to protect their own religion."14



Quite often a connection can be made between an accumulation of religiously motivated attacks and political changes. So there was z. For example, in Uttar Pradesh after the BJP came to power in 2017, 96 attacks on Christians - compared to 39 cases in 2016 when the Samajwadi party (Socialist Party) ruled this state in northern India.15 In the state of Madhya Pradesh, which has been ruled by the BJP for 15 years, there were 52 incidents in 2017, an increase of 54% compared to the previous year,16 in Tamil Nadu an increase of 60% (48 occurrences).17

In Karnataka, a coastal state in the south of the country with 64 million inhabitants, the BJP recorded significant votes in May 2018, and the Congress Party (Congress Party) could only stay in government by joining forces with a regional party. During the election campaign, a letter circulated among the population (allegedly written by the Archbishop of Bangalore, but which ultimately turned out to be a forgery) alleging that the Catholic Church had conspired to promote the Lingayats (an influential Hindu community, the 17% of the state's population united) in order to go soul-catching within this community.18

Nationwide, according to information from Persecution relief (an ecumenical forum focused on the persecution of Christians) reported 736 abuses in 2017 (up from 348 in 2016);19 this affected Christians in 24 of the 29 Indian states. On the occasion of their biennial plenary assembly in February 2018, the approximately 200 bishops of the Catholic Church in India (where the Latin, Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankar rites are represented) did not conceal the fact that Christians were in the current election season (parliamentary elections in eight states in 2018 and national elections in April or May 2019) face “immense challenges”.20 Since the BJP is the government in 19 of the 29 states of the Indian Union and is also in power at the federal level, "groups and organizations promoting cultural and religious nationalism are becoming increasingly bold",21 said Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, General Secretary of the Catholic Bishops' Conference in India. But such a nationalism "would lead India on a path of self-destruction",22 warned the bishops in their final declaration.

The Catholic Church is not alone in its criticism of nationalist tendencies. On April 25, 2018, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF; United States Commission on International Religious Freedom) issued a report that religious freedom is declining in India.23 In addition to anti-Christian violence, the USCIRF also refers to incidents - some with fatal results - that are related to the slaughter of cattle. In India, measures are currently being taken to protect cows. For example, the state of Rajasthan has created a “cow ministry” and tightened the laws on slaughtering bans. In Gujarat, home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the sentence for illegal cattle slaughter has been increased from seven years to life. The Gaushalas (Shelters for sacred cows) are increasingly being treated like temples by radical Hindus. Consumption of beef has repeatedly led to violent clashes between Hindu extremists and members of religious minorities. For Muslims, Christians and the descendants of the indigenous people (Adivasi and Dalits), beef is a cheap source of protein; but they are in danger of being attacked by Hindu nationalist militias targeting cattle breeders, shippers and beef sellers. In the period from May 2015 to May 2017, a total of twelve people were killed in violent attacks.24 Clinging to the holiness of the cow can be seen as a harbinger of a nationwide "Hinduization" of Indian society.


Perspectives for Religious Freedom

The figures that the Indian government presented to parliament on February 6, 2018, highlight the current upward trend in interreligious violence: In 2016 there were 703 religiously motivated violence, which resulted in a total of 86 fatalities and 2,321 injuries, and a further 822 Incidents in 2017 with 111 dead and 2,384 injured.25 

Msgr. Thomas Menamparampil, emeritus Catholic Archbishop of Guwahati (State of Assam), believes that Narendra Modi and the BJP are well aware that the Hindu majority is not united. The only way for the government to create unity among the Hindus is apparently to present them with the Muslim and Christian minority as a threat to India's identity - hence the polarization of public opinion around the subject of the sacred cows and the repeated debates about it "Forced conversions" blamed on Christians. In addition, Narendra Modi's major economic reforms would have created an "exclusive economy," said Archbishop Menamparampil in an interview with the news portal Crux.26 “His big projects benefit the privileged few, the elite, who marginalize the weaker social classes - the disadvantaged castes and the Adivasi; their land is given to multinational corporations, mineral deposits from these areas are sold to the big moneybags without the indigenous communities benefiting from it, ”complains the prelate. While this “economy of exclusion” is well compatible with certain aspects of Hindu nationalist ideology based on caste and “communities that are mutually exclusive”, the political leadership is well aware of the lack of solidarity within the Hindu community must also damage the interests of the ruling elite in the long term. According to Archbishop Menamparampil, the poorest members of Hindu society will never be impressed or convinced by the government's economic achievements; The government is therefore trying to mobilize them by putting the protection of the cow at the center or by prohibiting the change of religion. In this context, Christians should take care not to appear as a “contentious group”, but instead try to promote social cohesion as a minority.

  1. Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner, Census of India, 2011. Population by religious community, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India,, (accessed 23. May 2018).
  2. Karan Pradhan, “Religion in numbers: what 2011 Census reveals about India's communities”, FirstPost India, August 27, 2015, -trends-across-indias-communities-2408740.html, (accessed May 23, 2018).
  3. “Recensement 2011: le nouveau visage religieux de l'Inde”, Églises d'Asie, August 28, 2015, nouveau-visage-religieux-de-l2019inde /, (accessed on May 23, 2018).
  4. India's Constitution of 1949 with Amendments through 2012,,, (accessed May 23, 2018).
  5. Uttam Sengupta, “Catholic Priests from Vatican Denied Indian Visa”, Outlook, February 4, 2015,, (accessed 23 May 2018).
  6. Bharti Jain, “Rights group lobbied with EU to push Modi on FCRA”, The Times of India, April 2, 2016, on-FCRA / articleshow / 51655287.cms, (accessed May 23, 2018).
  7. “Conversion and freedom of religion”, The Hindu, December 23, 2014,, (accessed May 23, 2018).
  8. “Le gouvernement BJP défend les conversions de masse à l'hindouisme”, Églises d'Asie, December 15, 2014, -defend-les-tres-controversees-conversions-de-masse-a-lhindouisme, (accessed May 23, 2018).
  9. “Le gouvernement relance le débat sur la mise en place d'une loi anti-conversion au plan fédéral”, Églises d'Asie, April 22, 2015, -22-le-gouvernement-relance-le-debat-sur-la-mise-en-place-d2019une-loi-anti-conversion-au-plan-federal /, (accessed May 23, 2018).
  10. “National anti-conversion law not tenable: Law Ministry”, The Deccan Herald, April 15, 2015:, (accessed May 23 2018).
  11. “La liberté religieuse en Inde”, Églises d'Asie, April 17, 2014, inde, (accessed May 23, 2018).
  12. “India's debate on anti-conversion law deepens”, UCANews, April 17, 2015,, (accessed May 23, 2018 ).
  13. “Le gouvernement relance le débat sur la mise en place d'une loi anti-conversion au plan federal”, Églises d'Asie, April 22, 2015, -22-le-gouvernement-relance-le-debat-sur-la-mise-en-place-d2019une-loi-anti-conversion-au-plan-federal /, (accessed May 23, 2018).
  14. Ibid.
  15. “En un an, les attaques contre les chrétiens ont doublé”, Églises d'Asie, February 21, 2018, les-attaques-contre-les-chretiens-ont-double, (accessed May 23, 2018).
  16. Ibid.
  17. Ibid.
  18. Ibid.
  19. Persecution Relief Annual Report 2017,, (accessed May 23, 2018).
  20. Jose Kavi, “Catholic bishops' biennial plenary to review“ worrying ”national scenario”, Matters India, January 30, 2018, scenario /, (accessed June 14, 2018).
  21. Ibid.
  22. Bijay Kumar Minj, “Religious nationalism in India self-annihilation: bishops”, UCANews, February 14, 2018,, (accessed on June 14, 2018).
  23. “India Chapter”, Annual Report 2017, United States Commission on International Religious Freedom,, (accessed on May 23, 2018).
  24. “La guerre de la vache, bataille idéologique de l'Inde de Narendra Modi”, Églises d'Asie, June 2, 2017, guerre-de-la-vache-bataille-ideologique-de-l2019inde-de-narendra-modi, (accessed May 23, 2018).
  25. Umar Manzoor Shah, “Indian government accused of ignoring religious violence,” UCANews, May 1, 2018,, (accessed May 23, 2018). May 2018).
  26. Nirmala Carvalho, “India archbishop warns about harassing Christians with anti-conversion accusations”, Crux, July 3, 2017, conversion-accusations /, (accessed May 23, 2018).