Assam government's ban on healing draws flak from Christian groups

(Photo: Unsplash/Jon Tyson)

The Assam government's recent move to ban "magical healing" practices in the name of treatment has drawn criticism from the Christian community in the state.

The Assam cabinet recently approved the 'Assam Healing (Prevention of Evil) Practices Bill, 2024' which seeks to prohibit practices of magical healing for treating congenital diseases like deafness, dumbness, blindness, deformity and autism. The proposed law aims to take strong action against faith healers who allegedly exploit the poor and vulnerable sections.

Himanta Biswa Sharma, the Chief Minister of Assam took to X and justified the ban, “It will prohibit such healing sessions completely and provide strong punitive action against ‘healers’ extorting the poor and downtrodden people in the name of treatment.”

The Chief Minister in a press conference had called healing “a very-very dicey subject which is used to convert tribal people.” He had elaborated that this ban on healing will help preserve religious status quo in the state.

 “….we want to curb evangelism in Assam, so in that direction, the banning of healing, the act which we have passed in the last cabinet will be a very-very important milestone,” the Chief Minister had said.

However, the Assam Christian Forum (ACF), an umbrella body of all Christian churches in Assam, has opposed the bill stating it violates constitutional right to religious freedom. The ACF’s Press statement on 15 February 2024 comes amidst growing propaganda against the Christian community of exploiting faith healing to convert indigenous communities in Assam.

In a joint statement, ACF president Archbishop John M, general secretary - The Reverend Chowaram Daimari and ACF spokesperson Alen Brooks said the cabinet's assertion that Christians engage in magical healing is misleading. They clarified that Christian hospitals and dispensaries provide medical services within recognized frameworks.

The ACF leaders stated that healing through prayer is an act of compassion, not meant for conversion.

Referring to the pronouncements of the Chief Minister the ACF 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.”

The Forum emphasised that invoking divine blessings is intrinsic to all religions and the accusations undermine Article 25 which guarantees the right to practise one's faith.

“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,” the ACF statement said.

They requested the authorities to engage in dialogue to dispel misconceptions regarding healing practices.

The ACF also expressed concern over recent demands by pro-Hindu groups to remove idols of Jesus and Mary from missionary schools. Referring to the comments of Kutumba Surakshya Parishad president demanding removal of Christian symbols, the ACF rejected such divisive calls. They asserted that Christian symbols in institutions do not affect students of other faiths.

Urging the government to take action against fringe elements threatening civil society, the ACF reiterated commitment to compassionate service guided by faith. They emphasised the need to uphold constitutional rights and foster an inclusive society through respectful dialogue.

Speaking to Christian Today ACF spokesperson Alen Brooks said, “Our destiny as a nation lies in our diversity, while respecting each other’s individuality.”