A young Christian doctor in India’s central state of Madhya Pradesh has been suspended from a government program to help combat the deadly second wave of COVID-19 and is facing criminal charges for telling families to pray to Jesus if they get infected with the virus.
Dr. Sandhya Tiwari was suspended from the Madhya Pradesh state’s “Kill Corona” program and is facing criminal charges, possibly under the state’s anti-conversion law, the U.S.-based persecution watchdog group International Christian Concern reported.
As part of the program, the doctor visited homes in the Bajna area of Ratlam District on May 22 and distributed Christian leaflets along with a recommended diet chart. She also encouraged families to pray to Jesus for healing.
Activists from India’s chief Hindu nationalist umbrella organization, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, objected to it, according to OpIndia. One of the men there made a short video of himself interrogating the doctor.
The video was then shared on social media, in which Dr. Tiwari can be seen defending her actions, saying, “What is wrong in telling them that God heals? I did not tell anybody to convert or forced anybody to pray to Jesus, I am being a Christian, I told them that Jesus heals.”
According to local news reports, the doctor was then taken to a police station and was interrogated further.
On Monday, India recorded 152,000 new cases, the lowest daily rise in 50 days, while the number of deaths remained above 3,000, The Times of India reported.
“This is the state of religious freedom in our state, we can be booked for a conversion that we might have with people of other faith. In most cases, the facts are twisted to suit to an agenda and sadly the state machinery are handy to victimize the minorities,” ICC quoted a local Christian as saying.
"If the situation is such for a medical professional, the condition for the common Christian could be much worse,” the Christian added.
Madhya Pradesh state has had an anti-conversion law for more than 50 years, which presumes that Christian workers “force” or give financial benefits to Hindus to convert them to Christianity. A revised and stricter version of the legislation went into effect in January.
While these laws have been in place for decades in some states, no Christian has been convicted of “forcibly” converting anyone to Christianity. These laws, however, allow Hindu nationalist groups to make false charges against Christians and launch attacks on them under the pretext of the alleged forced conversion.
Similar anti-conversion laws have also been enacted in the states of Odisha, Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
Some of these laws state that no one is allowed to use the “threat” of “divine displeasure,” meaning Christians cannot talk about Heaven or Hell, as that would be seen as “forcing” someone to convert. And if snacks or meals are served to Hindus after an evangelistic meeting, that could be seen as “inducement.”
The ICC previously noted that India’s own population data proves that the conspiracy of mass conversions to Christianity is a false claim. “In 1951, the first census after independence, Christians made up only 2.3% of India's overall population. According to the 2011 census, the most recent census data available, Christians still only make up 2.3% of the population.”
Attacks and curbs on Christians have been on the rise since the Bharatiya Janata Party won India’s 2014 general election.
“Since the current ruling party took power in 2014, incidents against Christians have increased, and Hindu radicals often attack Christians with little to no consequences,” noted Open Doors’ World Watch List last year, which ranked India as the 10th worst country for Christians.
“The view of the Hindu nationalists is that to be Indian is to be Hindu, so any other faith — including Christianity — is viewed as non-Indian. Also, converts to Christianity from Hindu backgrounds or tribal religions are often extremely persecuted by their family members and communities,” Open Doors said at the time.