Church people say they are concerned about an anti-conversion bill passed recently in Himachal Pradesh, a northern Indian state governed by the Congress party.
The state assembly passed the bill Dec. 30 during a four-day winter session. However, the Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Bill still requires the state governor's signature before it can be enacted as a law.
"We are intrigued as to why the state government passed the bill," Father Babu Joseph, spokesperson for the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, told UCA News on Jan. 8.
The Congress party, which leads the federal government, "is known for its secular credentials," he said, expressing concern that the Himachal Pradesh government was "dragged" into passing such a bill by pro-Hindu ideologues.
The law forbids religious conversion by fraudulent means. Anyone found guilty of forcing another person to change religion can be punished with a two-year jail term, a fine of up to 25,000 rupees (US$560) or both.