Himachal Pradesh govt brings anti-conversion bill with stringent provisions

Cases of conversions appear in the country every day. In these cases of conversion, cases ranging from forced conversion to fraudulent conversion and marriages with a concealed purpose of conversion are common. The conversion business in the country is, therefore, a matter of worry. Strict laws are being made by the governments of different states to control this practice. The Jai Ram Thakur government in Himachal Pradesh has introduced the ‘Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2022’ with an aim to make changes to the existing law of conversion in the state.

The Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2019 was notified on December 21, 2020. The bill was passed with the aim to bring changes to the conversion law of 2006. In fact, the Himachal Pradesh anti-conversion law of 2006 was stayed by the Himachal High Court in 2012, saying it was a violation of religious freedom. After this, in the year 2019, the state government reintroduced the bill by making 10 amendments to the 2006 law. This bill was passed in the form of law in December 2020.

The Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2022

The ‘Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2022’, introduced by the Himachal Pradesh government, provides for stringent punishment as compared to the previous law. The new amendment bill introduced by the Jai Ram Thakur government proposes to increase the jail term for forced conversion from 7 years to a maximum of 10 years.

Further, according to the proposed provision in the Bill, no police officer below the rank of sub-inspector will be able to investigate all complaints made under the anti-conversion law. Not only this, the entire hearing of such a case will be held in the sessions court.

The amendment bill introduced by the Jai Ram Thakur government also provides that if a person hides his religion to marry a person of another religion, the guilty person can be punished for a minimum of 3 years. There is also a provision to extend this sentence to ten years. Further, in the Bill, the minimum penalty has been raised to ₹50,000 (Rs 50,000), which can be increased to Rs 100,000 (Rs 1 lakh).

The Bill also provides for an increase in punishment for mass conversion. According to the current law, there is a provision of 7 years imprisonment and a maximum fine of fifty thousand rupees for mass conversion. The new bill states that the conversion of two or more persons will be considered as mass conversion and in doing so, the accused can be punished with a minimum of 5 years. The sentence can be extended up to 10 years. Apart from this, a provision has been made for a fine of at least Rs 1.5 lakh for mass conversion, which can be increased to two lakh rupees.

No reservations after conversion

If a person, even after conversion, avails of the facilities available under his original religion, then it will come under the category of crime, according to this bill. A provision of 2 years imprisonment has been made for the person doing so, which can be extended to 5 years. Also, the fine can be increased from 50 thousand to one lakh rupees.

It can be understood that if people of Scheduled Castes or Tribes or OBC category convert, then they will not get any kind of reservation after that. Also, if they keep taking advantage of reservations by hiding their religious conversion, then they will have to serve a term of 5 years in jail and they will also have to pay a fine of 50000 to one lakh rupees.

Not only this, but the bill also makes it mandatory to submit an affidavit before the District Magistrate one month before the religious conversion. In this affidavit, it has to be stated that the person is voluntarily converting. However, if one wants to return to one’s original religion one will not need to give any kind of affidavit.

The Chief Minister, while introducing the bill, said “Some minor changes are being made in the sections of punishment to make the Act more effective. The Act prohibits religious conversions by misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, inducement, marriage, or any fraudulent manner. Any marriage for the sole purpose of religious conversion is declared “null and void (meaning illegal)” under Section 5 of the Act.”

Anti-conversion laws in other states

Apart from Himachal Pradesh, recently strict laws on conversion have also been made in some other states including Madhya Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh.

In Madhya Pradesh, according to the Freedom of Religion Act 2020, no person can convert another directly or indirectly in the name of temptation, threat or forced marriage, or in any other kind of fraud. Violation of this law provides for imprisonment ranging from 1 to 10 years and a fine of up to Rs 1 lakh. Not only this, there is a provision of punishment from 3 years to 10 years and a fine of Rs 50,000 for the crime of marriage by hiding religion. Also, information about marriage in another religion has to be given 2 months in advance. If the marriage takes place without notice, then it is considered void.

According to the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Religious Conversion Ordinance, 2020, there is a provision of imprisonment of 1 to 5 years with a minimum fine of Rs 15000 for forcible conversion. Apart from this, there is a provision of punishment ranging from three to 10 years for the conversion of minors and women from the SC/ST community. For forced mass conversion, there is a provision of punishment ranging from 3 to 10 years and a fine of Rs 50,000. If it is found that the sole purpose of the marriage was to convert, then such marriages are declared illegal.

Source: OpIndia

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