The northern state of Uttarakhand has become the seventh state in India to adopt a so-called “anti-conversion law”.

Uttarakhand State Governor Krishna Kant Paul (uk.gov.in)

State Governor Krishna Kant Paul signed the ‘Freedom of Religion Bill’ into law on 18 April, just over a month after the bill was approved by the state assembly and allowed to progress to the governor’s office.

Although ostensibly aimed at preventing “forced conversions”, in reality such laws are often used to prevent all conversions – whether by force or through free choice – and especially conversions to minority religions such as Christianity.

Accusations of forced conversions also regularly lead to attacks. In its 2016 report, Hate and targeted violence against Christians in India, the Evangelical Fellowship of India’s Religious Liberty Commission highlighted a steep rise in attacks on Christians in 2016 compared to the previous two years. Two of the states with “anti-conversion laws” – Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh – had the second and third highest number of attacks, respectively.

Uttarakhand’s Freedom of Religion Bill will be in force as soon as the state government drafts its rules, according to The Christian Post.

Uttarakhand joins Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat and Jharkhand in having such a law. Rajasthan, Arunachal Pradesh and Tamil Nadu (later repealed) have also passed similar legislation but not yet had the bill signed off by the state governor.

When Jharkhand became the sixth Indian state to pass an “anti-conversion law” in August last year, church leaders protested against the BJP-led government there, accusing it of hurrying through the law, which was passed and signed off on the same day.

The BJP is the ruling party in six of the seven states to adopt such a law.