New Freedom of Religion Act in Himachal
SHIMLA: With Himachal Pradesh home department fixing December 18 as the date to implement provisions of the Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2019 (13 of 2019), any forced religious conversion will be a cognizable and non-bailable offence in the state.
The Bill was tabled and passed in the state assembly last August. It later received the governor’s nod but the date of implementation was not fixed.
“In exercise of powers conferred by sub-section (2) Section 1 of Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2019 (13 of 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,” said a notification issued by the principal secretary (home) on Friday.
According to Section 3 of new Act, no person will 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 violators will be punished with imprisonment for a term of not less than one year and up to five years. The violator will also be liable to pay fine.
The Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2006 had the provision of punishment of maximum two years of imprisonment or fine which may extend to Rs 25,000 or with both. In case the offence was committed in respect of a minor, a woman or a person belonging to schedule castes or schedule tribes, the punishment of imprisonment may extend to three years and fine may extend to Rs 50,000.
Now, violating provisions in respect of a minor, woman or person belonging to Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe will invite imprisonment of not less than two years, which may be extended to seven years and the violator will also be liable to pay fine. According to the law, any marriage conducted with the sole purpose of conversion by a person of one religion with a person of another religion either by converting himself before or after marriage or by converting the other person before or after the marriage can be declared null and void by the family court on a petition presented by either party thereto.
One who desires to be converted to another religion will have to give a declaration at least one month in advance on the proforma as may be prescribed, to the district magistrate or executive magistrate, of his intention to convert his religion on his own volition or free consent and without any force, coercion, undue influence, inducement or fraudulent means. In case a person wants to re-convert to his parent religion, no notice will be required.
Even the religious priest who performs purification sanskar or conversion ceremony for converting any person of one religion to another religion will have to give one month’s advance notice of such sanskar or conversion to the district magistrate or executive magistrate on the prescribed proforma.
Under the new Act, burden of proof as to whether religious conversion was not effected through misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, inducement or by any fraudulent means or by marriage lies on the person so converted and where such conversion has been facilitated by any person, on such other person.
To put a check on forcible conversion and conversion taking place by way of misrepresentation and inducement etc, Himachal Pradesh government, on August 29 last year, tabled the Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Bill 2019 to re-enact the law to provide freedom of religion by prohibition of conversion.
Chief minister Jai Ram Thakur, in the statement of objects and reasons of the Bill, said that it has been observed that there is a rise in conversions by fraudulent means and unless checked well in time, this practice may erode the confidence and mutual trust between different ethnic and religious groups in the state.
It was stated that if forcible conversions were not prohibited, there would be public disorder in the state. Thus, in order to check forcible conversions of religion in the state and to preserve the peaceful atmosphere thereof, it was decided to bring an effective legislation in place of the Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act 2006.