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Explained: Why Bill Preventing 'Magical Healing' Has Upset Christians in Assam

The Assam Healing (Prevention of Evil) Practices Bill-2024 criminalises "non-scientific magical healing practices".

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On 10 February, a Hindutva outfit – Kutumba Surakshya Parishad – threatened missionary schools in Assam to take down Christian 'symbols', including photographs and idols of Jesus and Mary, from the school premises within a fortnight.

Another lesser-known Hindutva group called Sanmilita Santan Samaj, on 24 February, started a poster campaign in several towns in Assam – with "a final warning" to schools to "stop anti-Bharat activities" – and stuck them on the walls of missionary-run schools.

In the backdrop of Christian institutions allegedly facing harassment by Hindutva outfits – who claim these institutions are being used for "religious purposes" – a legislation passed by voice vote on Monday, 26 February, in the Assam Assembly has further left the community feeling "increasingly targeted".

The Assam Healing (Prevention of Evil) Practices Bill, 2024, criminalises "non-scientific magical healing practices used with malicious intent to exploit innocent individuals". The larger aim, the bill states, is to foster a safe, science-based environment and to protect public health against harmful practices based on ignorance and ill health.

So, which provisions of the Bill are deemed to be problematic by the Christian community? What else does the Bill state? The Quint explains.

Explained: Why Bill Preventing 'Magical Healing' Has Upset Christians in Assam

  1. 1. What Are the Key Provisions of the Bill?

    The bill defines "evil practices" as the "commission of any act of healing practices and magic healing, by any person, with a sinister motive to exploit common people." It further prohibits healing practices for the treatment of certain diseases and health disorder, as well as prevents any "misleading advertisement of religious practices".

    "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 legislation reads.

    The bill, which was introduced in the House on 21 February, was passed on 26 February amid heated discussions in the Assam Assembly.

    Making "magical healing" by any person a cognisable and non-bailable offence, the bill states:

    • In case of the first offence, the convict will face imprisonment for one year which may extend up to three years or with a fine of Rs 50,000 or both.

    • In case of a subsequent conviction, the person will face jail term which may extend up to five years or with a fine of Rs 1 lakh or both.

    • It says a police officer, not below the rank of sub-inspector, has the power to enter and inspect any practices within the local limit of jurisdiction of such person where he has reason to believe that an offence under this Act has been committed or is likely to be committed.

    Expand
  2. 2. 'The Term Magical Healing Does Not Exist in Christianity'

    John Moolachera, Archbishop of Guwahati Archdiocese, who also chairs the Assam Christian Forum (ACF), told The Quint that the legislation is based on "misconceptions" about healing practices and methods, the role of "faith and prayer" in dealing with illness, and fails to respect religious "diversity".

    "There is no term called magical healing in Christianity. We heard about it for the first time in the Assam Assembly. We don't simply go around healing – it is part of our prayer. We have healing prayers just like every other religion. When someone who is ill comes to us, 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?"
    John Moolachera, Archbishop of Guwahati Archdiocese

    Talking about the bill, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had said, "We want to curb evangelism in Assam and in this regard, the banning of healing is an important milestone."

    He had added that magical healing is "a dicey subject used to convert tribal people."

    "We are going to pilot this bill because we believe the religious status quo is very important for a proper balance. Let Muslims remain Muslims, Christians remain Christians, Hindus remain Hindus," he had added.

    In a statement, the ACF said that his remarks were "both misguided and needless".

    "The Assam Cabinet's assertion that Christians (whose population is about 11 lakh in the state according to the 2011 Census) engage in magical healing is misguided and misleading. Our numerous dispensaries and hospitals operate within the recognised medical frameworks, providing essential services to the sick," the ACF statement noted.

    Expand
  3. 3. 'Bill Undermines Constitutional Guarantee of Allowing People to Practice Religion'

    ACF spokesperson Allen Brooks told The Quint that Article 25 of the Constitution guarantees the people of their right to practice religion. Such allegations and mislabelling of Christian practices "undermine this very constitutional protection," he added.

    "Prayer is a universal practice across religions, used to invoke divine healing. Labelling it as magical healing oversimplifies the profound spiritual dimensions of faith and life. As per Article 25 of the Indian Constitution, a person has the right to practice one's chosen religion. Any accusation against Christians, therefore, undermines this constitutional protection."
    Allen Brooks, spokesperson, Assam Christian Forum

    Brooks added that there are babas (godmen) who lure people with promises of 'curing' them from diseases. "But the government does not crack down on them. So why has the government's lens suddenly turned on our practices?" he said.

    The Assam Tribal Christian Coordination Committee (ATCCC), meanwhile, has called upon the Assam government to reconsider the Bill.

    "We majorly disagree with the potential ambiguity in the wording of the Bill, particularly in its use of terms like 'magic healing' or 'magical healing' alongside concepts such as 'proselytisation' or 'conversion.' There is a need for clarity and the avoidance of any misinterpretation that may lead to unintended consequences. There is a difference/distinction among 'propagation' from 'proselytisation' or religious 'conversion'. Every person is entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to adopt a religion without coercion," the forum told The Quint.

    Expand
  4. 4. 'Why No Action on Missionary Schools in Assam Being Targeted?'

    The ACF also questioned why there has been no action against "fringe elements" for allegedly issuing threats to the Christian missionaries.

    On 24 February, Sanmilita Santan Samaj had backed removing Christian symbols and churches from their premises and an end to use of "educational institutions for religious purposes" through a poster campaign.

    According to The Hindu, these posters were pasted on the walls of missionary-run educational institutions in Guwahati, Barpeta, Jorhat, and Sivasagar towns. "This is the final warning to stop using the school as a religious institution... stop anti-Bharat and unconstitutional activities, or else…" the poster, written in Assamese, read.

    "We are not against the Christians. But we are against the subtle use of religious symbols aimed at conversion. The missionary schools focus on propagating Christianity, not India or Indian culture," The Hindu quoted a member of the Sanmilita Santan Samaj as saying.

    Brooks asserts that the government has failed to provide a sense of security for the Christians against such acts.

    "Fringe elements are spewing venom in public. Why is the government letting such elements go scot-free? Our institutions have always accommodated individuals of all religions and cultures," he added.

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

What Are the Key Provisions of the Bill?

The bill defines "evil practices" as the "commission of any act of healing practices and magic healing, by any person, with a sinister motive to exploit common people." It further prohibits healing practices for the treatment of certain diseases and health disorder, as well as prevents any "misleading advertisement of religious practices".

"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 legislation reads.

The bill, which was introduced in the House on 21 February, was passed on 26 February amid heated discussions in the Assam Assembly.

Making "magical healing" by any person a cognisable and non-bailable offence, the bill states:

  • In case of the first offence, the convict will face imprisonment for one year which may extend up to three years or with a fine of Rs 50,000 or both.

  • In case of a subsequent conviction, the person will face jail term which may extend up to five years or with a fine of Rs 1 lakh or both.

  • It says a police officer, not below the rank of sub-inspector, has the power to enter and inspect any practices within the local limit of jurisdiction of such person where he has reason to believe that an offence under this Act has been committed or is likely to be committed.

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'The Term Magical Healing Does Not Exist in Christianity'

John Moolachera, Archbishop of Guwahati Archdiocese, who also chairs the Assam Christian Forum (ACF), told The Quint that the legislation is based on "misconceptions" about healing practices and methods, the role of "faith and prayer" in dealing with illness, and fails to respect religious "diversity".

"There is no term called magical healing in Christianity. We heard about it for the first time in the Assam Assembly. We don't simply go around healing – it is part of our prayer. We have healing prayers just like every other religion. When someone who is ill comes to us, 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?"
John Moolachera, Archbishop of Guwahati Archdiocese

Talking about the bill, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had said, "We want to curb evangelism in Assam and in this regard, the banning of healing is an important milestone."

He had added that magical healing is "a dicey subject used to convert tribal people."

"We are going to pilot this bill because we believe the religious status quo is very important for a proper balance. Let Muslims remain Muslims, Christians remain Christians, Hindus remain Hindus," he had added.

In a statement, the ACF said that his remarks were "both misguided and needless".

"The Assam Cabinet's assertion that Christians (whose population is about 11 lakh in the state according to the 2011 Census) engage in magical healing is misguided and misleading. Our numerous dispensaries and hospitals operate within the recognised medical frameworks, providing essential services to the sick," the ACF statement noted.

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'Bill Undermines Constitutional Guarantee of Allowing People to Practice Religion'

ACF spokesperson Allen Brooks told The Quint that Article 25 of the Constitution guarantees the people of their right to practice religion. Such allegations and mislabelling of Christian practices "undermine this very constitutional protection," he added.

"Prayer is a universal practice across religions, used to invoke divine healing. Labelling it as magical healing oversimplifies the profound spiritual dimensions of faith and life. As per Article 25 of the Indian Constitution, a person has the right to practice one's chosen religion. Any accusation against Christians, therefore, undermines this constitutional protection."
Allen Brooks, spokesperson, Assam Christian Forum

Brooks added that there are babas (godmen) who lure people with promises of 'curing' them from diseases. "But the government does not crack down on them. So why has the government's lens suddenly turned on our practices?" he said.

The Assam Tribal Christian Coordination Committee (ATCCC), meanwhile, has called upon the Assam government to reconsider the Bill.

"We majorly disagree with the potential ambiguity in the wording of the Bill, particularly in its use of terms like 'magic healing' or 'magical healing' alongside concepts such as 'proselytisation' or 'conversion.' There is a need for clarity and the avoidance of any misinterpretation that may lead to unintended consequences. There is a difference/distinction among 'propagation' from 'proselytisation' or religious 'conversion'. Every person is entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to adopt a religion without coercion," the forum told The Quint.

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'Why No Action on Missionary Schools in Assam Being Targeted?'

The ACF also questioned why there has been no action against "fringe elements" for allegedly issuing threats to the Christian missionaries.

On 24 February, Sanmilita Santan Samaj had backed removing Christian symbols and churches from their premises and an end to use of "educational institutions for religious purposes" through a poster campaign.

According to The Hindu, these posters were pasted on the walls of missionary-run educational institutions in Guwahati, Barpeta, Jorhat, and Sivasagar towns. "This is the final warning to stop using the school as a religious institution... stop anti-Bharat and unconstitutional activities, or else…" the poster, written in Assamese, read.

"We are not against the Christians. But we are against the subtle use of religious symbols aimed at conversion. The missionary schools focus on propagating Christianity, not India or Indian culture," The Hindu quoted a member of the Sanmilita Santan Samaj as saying.

Brooks asserts that the government has failed to provide a sense of security for the Christians against such acts.

"Fringe elements are spewing venom in public. Why is the government letting such elements go scot-free? Our institutions have always accommodated individuals of all religions and cultures," he added.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Christians   Assam   Christianity 

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