Jehovah’s Witnesses have been present in India since 1905. They established an office in 1926 in Bombay (now Mumbai), and obtained legal registration in 1978. The Witnesses benefit from the guarantees of India’s constitution, which include the right to practice, profess, and propagate one’s faith. Their legal victory in the landmark case of Bijoe Emmanuel v. State of Kerala in the Supreme Court of India has contributed to the constitutional freedoms enjoyed by all citizens. Jehovah’s Witnesses generally worship without hindrance in India. However, in some states, they have been victims of mob attacks and other acts of religious intolerance.
In 1977 the Supreme Court made a distinction between spreading one’s religion and converting others. It held that no one has the right to convert another person and that the anticonversion laws passed by some states were lawful. When dealing with the police, mobs who attack the Witnesses often refer to what the court said and falsely claim that they caught the Witnesses converting people. In states without anticonversion laws, opposers instead accuse the Witnesses of blasphemy, misapplying a law from colonial times to the public preaching work of Jehovah’s Witnesses. As a result, Jehovah’s Witnesses have been the target of over 150 violent mob attacks since 2002. Local authorities often compound the problem because they do not adequately protect the victims or prosecute the attackers.
Jehovah’s Witnesses in India continue to meet with government officials and to apply to the courts in order to protect their right to practice their religion freely. The Witnesses anticipate that local authorities and individuals will abide by the Supreme Court’s statement in the Bijoe case: “Our tradition teaches tolerance; our philosophy preaches tolerance; our constitution practises tolerance; let us not dilute it.” The Witnesses hope that their efforts will eliminate the mob attacks and promote a climate of religious tolerance.