MUMBAI, India – India’s northeastern state of Assam is accusing Christians of “fraudulent magical healing practices,” a move Church leaders call “misguided and misleading.”

On Feb. 10, the Assam Cabinet 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.”

“We want to curb evangelism in Assam and in this regard, the banning of healing is an important milestone,” said Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on Feb. 12. He is a member of the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which also rules the national government.

“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,” Sarma said.

The chief minister said the government will bring a legislation prohibiting the practice of magical healing in the name of treatment by faith healers to convert tribal people.

“We are not targeting any particular religion,” he said.

However, the Assam Christian Forum – an umbrella body of Christian Churches in Assam – charged the government with the “explicit goal of curbing evangelism associated with such practices.”

“The Assam Cabinet’s assertion that Christians engage in magical healing is misguided and misleading. Our numerous dispensaries and hospitals operate within the recognized medical frameworks, providing essential services to the sick,” the group said in a statement.

“Healing, in our context, is not synonymous with proselytization. It is a compassionate response to human suffering, irrespective of religious affiliations,” it continued.

“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. Article 25 of the Indian Constitution guarantees the right to practice one’s chosen religion. Accusation against Christians undermines this constitutional protection,” the Christian leaders said.

“The statement implicates Christians specifically, but it affects practitioners of all faiths. We must recognize that invoking divine blessings is intrinsic to religious worship, whether in temples, mosques, or churches.  We should celebrate the rich tapestry of religious practices that contribute to our nation’s cultural heritage,” the statement added.

The Church leaders said they are also disturbed by the threats to educational institutions and demands for the removal of Christian symbols by some fringe elements.

Earlier in February, a local Hindu group in Assam gave Christian schools in the state a 15-day ultimatum to remove all Christian symbols and religious habits worn by priests, nuns, and brothers on their campuses.

Satya Ranjan Borah, president of the Hindu group, at a Feb. 7 press conference claimed Christian missionaries are converting schools and educational institutes into religious institutes: “We will not allow it.”

The Christian leaders said some Hindu groups demand that Hindu worship be performed in Christians schools.

“We reject these demands and request the state authorities to take action against these elements who are a threat to our civilized society and are against the rights given to us by the Constitution of India,” the Assam Christian Forum statement said.

The group called for a dialogue that promotes understanding and dispels misconceptions.

“Healing, whether through prayer or medical intervention, transcends religious boundaries. As Christians, we remain committed to compassionate service, guided by our faith and love for humanity. We emphasize the religious freedom guaranteed by the Constitution of India and the need for respectful dialogue,” their statement said.

Archbishop John Moolachera, a member of the Assam Christian Forum, said the problems are stemming from a particular Hindu group.

“As for religious dress, we will have our dress, we are not going to remove the statues. Except for this group, none of our guardians have any problem,” he told Crux.

“We are praying for divine assistance though we have made known our apprehensions to the police and others,” the archbishop said.

However, Christian churches in the state still face threats.

One of the oldest missionary schools in Assam on Feb. 17 sought police protection after a poster was put on its boundary wall warning the authorities to “take off” all religious statues from the school within a week or face consequences, the Telegraph reported.

Carmel School in Jorhat – located in upper Assam – has written to the police about the poster, put up on Friday night, and urged officers to “to look into the sensitive matter and take necessary action.”

School principal Sister Rose Fatima told police they had “been very accommodating and respectful towards people of every religion and culture” and maintained an “atmosphere of peace and tranquility.”

No organization or individual has claimed responsibility for pasting the poster.

In Assam, Christians make up 3.74 percent of the population, exceeding the national average of 2.3 percent.