Religious conversion by force or fraud in Himachal would invite more stringent punishment of upto seven years in jail with Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2019 coming into force in the state.
The Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2019 which was passed by the State Assembly last year has been notified by the state Home Department. It replaces a 2006 law that has been repealed by the assembly.
“In exercise of powers conferred by sub-section (2) Section I of Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religious Act 2019, the Governor Himachal Pradesh is pleased to appoint the 18th day of December 2020, the date from which the provisions of the aforesaid Act shall come into force, the notification stated.The law comes into force at the time when many BJP ruled states are mulling to introduce such laws to prevent cases of ‘love jihad’ , a term coined by right wing for Hindu girls being allegedly forced to convert to Islam in the guise of marriage.
The BJP ruled states of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh have expressed their intention to bring a law against ‘love jihad’.The Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2019 prohibits conversion by misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, inducement, marriage or any fraudulent means.Any marriage for the sole purpose of conversion will also be declared null and void under Section 5 of the Act.
All offences under the Act are cognizable and non-bailable. The violator can be punished with a prison term ranging from one to five years, along with a fine. In case the victim is a minor, woman or member of a Scheduled Caste or Tribe, the imprisonment may extend upto seven years. Failure to declare the conversion in advance can also result in an imprisonment of upto two years.
According to the Act, “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”. The Act does not cover a person re-converting to his “parent religion”.As per the Act, anyone who wishes to convert to any other religion will give a declaration to the district authorities at least one month in advance, specifying that one is doing so as per his/her “own volition or free consent”. In fact, even the priest who performs the conversion ceremony has to inform the authorities at least one month in advance.
The district magistrate will then conduct an inquiry regarding the “intention, purpose and cause of proposed conversion”. The conversion will be rendered illegal if the authorities are not informed in advance, as per the Act.
Notably, the opposition had supported the Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Bill, 2019, in the State Assembly and the legislation was passed unanimously with a voice vote in August last year.