For decades, India was plagued with the menace of religious conversions. Missionaries ravaged the society and destroyed the ethos of Sanathan Dharma. Yet, politicians let themselves be held hostage by the veto power of the Muslim voters. They behaved as if their hands were tied behind their backs. They refrained from legislating acts to curb forced conversions. Gladly, time never remains the same. The sun is finally settng for the religious missionaries. The Himachal government is spearheading this reform and has prepared the noose for evangelists.
Himachal bars Religious Conversion
Recently, the Jai Ram Thakur government went hammer and tongs against the conversion mafia trying to allure vulnerable sections of society. It amended the Freedom of Religion Act, 2019 to make it more stringent. The Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2022 was unanimously passed by the state assembly. It will become a law after the Governor’s assent.
Himachal Pradesh Assembly passes the Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill 2022
The bill has been brought to curb illegal religious conversions in Himachal Pradesh and proposes a higher jail term of up to 10 years and a fine of up to Rs 2 lakh.
Himachal CM Jai Ram Thakur stated that the government brought this amendment to stop mass conversion. He highlighted the case of mass conversions that shocked the state. He gave examples of mass conversion in Rohru, Rampur and Banjar in Himachal.
CM Thakur said, “There was no provision in the (2019) Act to curb mass conversions. Therefore, a provision to this effect is being made. The jail for mass conversions shall be between five and 10 years and a fine of Rs 1.50 lakh”.
The Himachal administration has made several changes to bar any kind of religious conversion. The new amended bill will forbid mass conversions in the state. This is a stern warning to the evangelists upsurging in the state.
Various provisions of the new Bill
As per the bill, “mass conversion” is described as two or more people converting at the same time. The amended bill proposes to increase the punishment for forced conversions to a maximum of 10 years from previously 7 years.
The bill states, “No person shall convert or attempt to convert, either directly or otherwise, any other person from one religion to another by use of misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, inducement or by any fraudulent means or by marriage.”
Any person who violates the provisions stated in the bill and indulges in mass conversion will face a minimum punishment of five years that can be extended up to ten years.
The bill clearly states that if someone conceals his/her identity, religion to marry someone from other religion, that person will be liable to face a punishment between 3 to 10 years. In addition to the jail term, the person will be fined a minimum Rs 50,000 that may extend to Rs 1 lakh.
The bill categorically states that the complaints made under the new Act will be investigated by a police officer not below the rank of a sub-inspector. These cases will now be heard by a sessions court.
No caste-based benefits post conversion
Additionally, post conversion, the bill bars the converted person from taking benefits on the basis of their parents’ caste and religion. This means that if any SC/ST/OBC undergoes religious conversion, the converted person can not avail reservation and other benefits available for SC/ST/OBCs.
The bill states that any person who makes a false declaration or continues to draw the benefit of his parent religion or caste even after conversion shall be punished to not less than two years or extended to five years of imprisonment.
This was also the last session of the assembly as the state is heading for polls in November. With this the Jai Ram Thakur government has set a strong tone while going into the election. It has made strong legislation that will prove to be a death knell for the conversion mafia. This has virtually made religious conversion next to impossible in the hilly state. This stringent legislation should be replicated elsewhere to end the menace of the conversion mafia.
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