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Himachal now brings a more stringent Bill on religious conversions

The Jai Ram Thakur government said the initial Act was introduced to promote freedom of religion by prohibition of conversion from one religion to another through coercion, misrepresentation or fraudulent means.

Himachal Pradesh CM Jai Ram Thakur. (Express/File)

In the final Vidhan Sabha session before the state heads for polls, Himachal Pradesh seeks to criminalise mass religious conversions. An amendment to the Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act-2019 was tabled on the third day of the Monsoon Session. In the Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill-2022, a provision has been added which deems conversion of two or more persons as mass conversion. 

The Jai Ram Thakur government said the initial Act was introduced to promote freedom of religion by prohibition of conversion from one religion to another through coercion, misrepresentation or fraudulent means. However, no provisions for mass conversions were given in the Act. The amendment seeks to establish mass conversion within the same Act and with stringent punishment for the same. 

Section 3 of the Freedom Act 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.”

The Amendment Bill will be defining conversion of two or more persons at the same time as mass conversion. “Provided further that whosoever contravenes the provisions of Section 3 in respect of mass conversion shall be punished with imprisonment for a term, which shall not be less than five years, but which may extend to ten years,” reads the Amendment Bill. The person accused of carrying out mass conversions will also be liable for a fine upto Rs 1.5 lakh.

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If a person is found to be accused of a second offence of the same nature, the quantum of prison may extend to a minimum of seven years and a maximum of ten years. 
The Bill further provides that if a person conceals his religion while marrying someone from another religion, he/she shall be punished with imprisonment for a term, which shall not be less than three years, but which may extend to ten years. The person will also be liable to a fine which shall not be less than Rs 50,000 and also may extend to Rs 1 lakh.

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The initial Act provided that a person converting to another religion out willingly shall give notice to the office of District Magistrate a month in advance. Any violation of the same would be deemed a punishable offence. An addition to the clause has been added which 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. 

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Earlier the DM would authorise an inquiry into allegations of conversions. In the amendment, a police Sub-Inspector level officer will be authorised to carry out an investigation in the conversion case. The offence under this Act is non-bailable and the accused will be tried by the Court of Sessions, the Bill states.

First published on: 13-08-2022 at 02:31:56 am
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