From Anti-Evangelism Act to Warning Convent Schools, How Christian Community in Assam is Facing ‘Constant Attacks’

According to the United Christian Forum, 597 incidents of violence have been committed against Christians across 21 states in India since 2022.
The list of warnings that were pasted on the walls of many missionary schools
The list of warnings that were pasted on the walls of many missionary schools

New Delhi: Kutumba Surakshya Parishad, a Hindutva organisation, threatened missionary schools in Assam on February 10, demanding that Christian “symbols” be removed from the school grounds within a fortnight — including pictures and statues of Jesus and Mary.

Similarly, a poster campaign was initiated at many places in the state on February 24 by another lesser-known Hindutva group named Sanmilita Santan Samaj — giving a “final warning” to missionary-run schools to stop “anti-Bharat (India) activities”. 

Such Hindutva outfits claim that these institutions are being used for “religious purposes”.

Furthering the community’s worry of being “increasingly targeted” by Hindutva outfits, the Assam Assembly — which has majority law makers belonging to the Hindu supremacist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — on February 26 passed by voice vote a legislation called the Assam Healing (Prevention of Evil Practices Bill), 2024 to eradicate “magical healings, which it says is “non-scientific to exploit individuals with malicious intent”.

According to Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, the law will prove to be a crucial milestone in curbing evangelism in Assam. He alleged these practices are being carried out to promote conversion among tribal people.

The new legislation states that it aims to bring “social awakening and create science-based knowledge”.

But the law has upset the minority community, which constitutes 3.74% of the state’s population. 

The Mooknayak explains which provisions of the legislation are the Christian community finding problematic and what else is said in it.

It defines “evil practices” as “commission of any act of healing practices and magic healing, by any person, with a sinister motive to exploit common people”. It also forbids “misleading” advertisement of religious practices and the use of healing methods to treat specific illnesses and disorders.

The law states, “No person shall take part in any sort of advertisement relating to any kind of medicine, remedy directly or indirectly relating to any false claim to cure diseases through healing practices.”

The new law has made “magical healing” a cognisable and non-bailable offense. It states the offender will face a year in prison, with the possibility of an additional period of imprisonment, a fine of Rs 50,000, or both in case of first offense.

If the offender is found guilty again, the legislation says, they might spend up to five years in prison, pay a fine of Rs 1 lakh, or both.

It states that if a police officer, not less than the rank of a sub-inspector, has reasonable suspicion that an offense under this Act has been committed or is about to be committed, he may enter and inspect any practice within the local limit of his authority.

However, the Assam Christian Forum has said that the prayer is a universal practice across religions, which is used to invoke divine healing, and that labeling it “magical healing” oversimplifies the profound spiritual dimensions of faith and life.

The divine healing, it said, is defined as “a traditional holistic approach to heal the body, mind and spirit of human beings with traditional medicine and art, encompassing any system, treatment, diagnosis or practice for ascertainment, cure, relief and correction of any human diseases, ailments, deformity, injury or enhancement of a condition or appearance”.

Christian leaders are planning to approach the chief minister and urge him to address the perceived threats to Christianity and missionary activities.

They expressed concerns that threats to Christianity and missionary endeavors have escalated in recent years across northeastern India, driven by Hindu groups promoting cultural nationalism.

“The government has tried to dilute the resentment among Christains by stating that the Act will be used to curb superstitious practices and ulterior motives behind ‘magical healing’ sessions. My question is, who will decide the motive?” asked Allen Brooks, the forum’s spokesperson, while talking to The Mooknayak. 

He said the new law has brought the integrity of the entire community into question. “The first school in Assam was established by missionaries. We have been managing schools for the last 180-200 years, and no one doubted our intentions then. Many important people have done their schooling from these missionary schools,” he said.

FIRs against two pastors in the state because they were carrying out blessing ceremonies, according to him, prompted the government to come up with the Act.

“We have healing prayer services, which almost every other community has, maybe, in different forms. Saying this is being done for conversion is putting our integrity to question,” he said.

He said the Christian missionaries running schools under Article 29 and 30 of the Constitution. “Our schools have either CBSE or state board syllabuses. We are implementing the Centre’s New Education Policy. Even now if someone is telling us to remove certain idols, my very first question is how are they?” asked the spokesperson.

“If it is a constitutional matter, they should go to the court and let the law take its own course,” he added.

Talking about what the groups have given back to the community, he said, “We have so much credibility to show what we have done for the society. When the British had removed Assamese as a language, we were the ones who brought it back. It is ridiculous to think a man is coming and asking our credibility after 200 years of service.”

Many famous administrators have done their schooling from convent schools run and managed by missionaries. “Former Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sanowal studied in Don Bosco. Former Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi studied in Dibrugarh’s Don Bosco. Union Minister Piyush Goyal too studied from a branch of the institution,” Brooks listed out the high-profile beneficiaries of the missionaries educational institutions.

“Our schools provide equal opportunity, beyond one’s caste, creed and gender. No one gets to know one’s identity when the students wear our uniforms,” he claimed.

According to him, the missionaries were the ones that gave the state of Assam its language back. The first book published in Assamese in 1813 was the Bible. The first Assamese newspaper, ‘Arunodoy’, was published by the missionaries. The first grammar book was written by the missionaries,” claimed the Assam Christian Forum representative.

According to the United Christian Federation, a human rights group based in New Delhi, over 597 incidents of violence have been committed against Christians across 21 states in India.

It said it “beseeched the President to urge the Union and state governments to protect the rights and freedom of the Christian community to practice its faith, run its educational institutions and live with dignity throughout the country.

The UCF noted that “local authorities have been unable to diffuse these situations and failed to investigate or prosecute mobs and offenders, yet over 100 FIRs — many of which filed by members of right wing extremist groups that are ineligible to file such complaints — were registered against Christians since 2022”.

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