Himachal Pradesh brings into effect anti-conversion law a year after passing bill

Haryana government, and its Home Minister Anil Vij, is planning to bring Himachal’s stringent anti-conversion law to their state
Himachal Pradesh brings into effect anti-conversion law a year after passing bill

After passing it in assembly last year, the Himachal Pradesh’s BJP government has decided to bring into effect the law against “forced” religious conversion. While states like Uttar Pradesh and Assam are leading the charge in this regard, Himachal Pradesh had already brought out the legislation last year. Governor Bandaru Dattatreya gave his assent to the Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act 2019 this year, while the Home Department issued a notification regarding its implementation on December 18.

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Interestingly, the bill was passed unanimously on August 30, 2019, including the Congress and the lone CPI (M) member. The Congress government in 2006 had already passed a law against forced religious conversions, but calling them ineffective, the current BJP government led by Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur has decided to bring in a more stringent law. “We were not able to stop any religious conversion following the Act [2006], as no cases were registered despite incidents occurring. The previous Act needed 10 amendments, so we decided to bring in the new bill,” said Thakur.

While the Congress MLAs had shown their apprehension since there was already a law in place, they still voted for it. Meanwhile, the lone CPM MLA Rakesh Singha voted in support after disagreeing with a couple of provisions in the bill.

The bill says, “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; nor shall any person abet or conspire such conversion.”

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The person converting or wanting to convert must inform district authorities one month in advance, and there will be inquiries into the intention and purpose of the conversion. Moreover, in the case of complications, the burden of proof is on the converted and the facilitator of conversion to prove that the conversion did not happen fraudulently. The punishment ranges from one to five years’ prison term, and in cases of special conditions, it can go up to seven years.

Haryana Home Minister had expressed his government’s intention to bring such a law against forced religious conversion into place. He has sought information on the specific law that the Himachal Pradesh government had passed. This has piqued the interest of many political observers, who believed that such laws could extend beyond BJP-ruled states.

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