Praying for Healing to be Made Illegal by Indian State of Assam

The government of the Indian state of Assam has approved a controversial bill that prevents people from conducting religious healings, calling them “magical healing”. Offenders face stiff fines and even imprisonment. 

The Assam Cabinet has approved the Assam Healing (Prevention of Evil) Practices Bill, 2024, which establishes imprisonment and fines for engaging in illegal practices “under the guise of treatment or magic healing,” news portal Crux reports.  

According to The Hindu, The bill makes it illegal to conduct “inhuman, evil, or magical healing practices”. The government can punish such acts, or the promotion of them, with a year’s imprisonment. This can extend to three years, a fine of 50,000 rupees, or both. Repeat offenders face up to five years in prison or a fine of 100,000 rupees, or both. 

The Chief Minister of Assam says he wants to “curb evangelism in Assam,” calling this new move “an important milestone” in that process. However, local church leaders say the bill is “misguided and misleading.” 

The bill was passed on February 26, but needs to be ratified by India’s president Droupadi Murmu to become law. Assam’s regional government is led by the nationalist Hindu BJP and there is concern that this bill precedes the introduction of wider “anti-conversion laws” which have already been introduced in 12 of India’s 28 states.

John Moolachira of Guwahati Archdiocese and president of the Assam Christian Forum told India’s The Print they have only heard the phrase “magical healing” in the Assam Assembly for the first time.

 We don’t simply go around healing — it is part of our prayer. We have healing prayers like every other religion — when sick people come, we pray for them — individually, or by making them stand together in a group. We don’t do magic to heal people. Why is the government making it illegal and punishable is what we don’t understand.

In a statement, The Assam Christian Forum said:

Healing, in our context, is not synonymous with proselytization. It is a compassionate response to human suffering, irrespective of religious affiliations.” The statement continued to say that prayer is a universal practice across religions, and that the Indian constitution guarantees the right to practice one’s chosen religion. 

Anjali Lhing*, who partners with the charity Open Doors in the region says, “This bill has threatened the mission workers and Christian community. It provides the religious groups an opportunity to generate false allegations against Christians and their institutions. The bill specifically targets the Christian community in Assam.

Earlier in February, Christian institutes, churches, and schools in the region were given an ultimatum of about two weeks to remove Christian symbols by a Hindu nationalist group based in Assam. The group Kutumba Surakshya Parishad (Family Safety Council), posted signs demanding that crosses, as well as photographs of Jesus and Mary, be removed. 

According to media reports, the schools have been given a 15-day period to remove symbols, signs, and practices that pertain to Christianity, with dire threats towards those who do not comply. Priests, nuns, and brothers serving in Christian institutions are demanded to stop wearing their cassocks and are accused of promoting Christianity in schools forcefully. 

According to Anjali Lhing:

Religious radicals are saffronising (ie Hinduising) the syllabus by criticising minority religions and patronising Hinduism in the education system. Students’ minds are being polluted and misled against minority religions.

She adds that the opposition towards Assam’s Christians are accompanied by increasing levels of violent persecution in the wider region, including the violence in the neighbouring state of Manipur:

Please pray for the northeastern states in India, they were once a haven for Christians. They are now endangered with constant news of violence.

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