On the last day of the final session of the current House before the state heads for polls slated for November, the Himachal Pradesh Assembly on Saturday passed a Bill amending the current anti-religious conversion law to ban any “mass conversion” and enhance the maximum punishment for forced conversion to a maximum of 10 years imprisonment from the exiting seven years.
The Jairam Thakur-led BJP government tabled the amendment to Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2019, on Friday.
The Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2022, passed unanimously by the House, inserts in the 2019 law a reference to “mass conversion”, which is described as two or more people converting at the same time.
The government asserted that it brought the amended legislation to make the 2019 anti-conversion law more stringent, which prohibits religious conversion through coercion, misrepresentation or fraudulent means while stipulating a maximum seven-year jail punishment for the crime.
Opposition parties argued that the amended law will contravene constitutional provisions for persons belonging to SC and ST communities. The lone CPI(M) MLA, Rakesh Singha, said these vulnerable communities will be victimised by the new law.
The Chief Minister said, “…there is no specific targeting of any community. It only focuses on the fact that if a person is voluntarily converting to another religion they must declare it beforehand.”