Himachal Pradesh assembly passes the Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2022, banning mass conversions.
The Himachal Pradesh assembly on Saturday passed the Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2022, banning mass conversions and increased the maximum punishment to up to 10 years.
The Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act 2019 was brought in to ban conversions by force, undue influence, coercion, inducement or any other fraudulent means or by marriage or other similar matters. However, in the 2019 act there was no provision to curb mass conversions.
Before 2019, Himachal Pradesh had a law against conversions which was passed by Virbhadra Singh led Congress govt and it was among the first few states to do so. The provision of punishment was up to seven years.
Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur while tabling the new bill said that the bill is intended to stop mass conversions like the ones happening in Rohru Rampur and Banjar in Himachal.
While participating in the discussion two Congress MLAs and a CPI(M) MLA demanded the bill to be referred to a select committee. Congress MLA Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu demanded an amendment in Section 7 of the bill while also accusing the govt of bringing the bill for political messaging and gains.
When the 2019 bill was passed, it was only notified after 15 months in December 2020. The 2019 bill replaced the earlier 2006 bill which was less strict on the issue of conversions.
A clause in the 2019 bill has been added which says that mass conversion means the conversion of two or more people at the same time.
An amendment of Section 4 given in the bill states that if someone marries a person while hiding their religion in such a manner that another person believes that his religion is the one claimed by him shall be punished with an imprisonment of no less than three years and up to 10 years at maximum and also a fine of no less than 50,000 which may extend to 1 lakh.
Himachal Pradesh is not the only state to pass laws against conversions or mass conversions. Other states and particularly BJP run states have passed such a law.
BJP has been a staunch supporter of anti-conversion laws. Earlier states like Assam also brought in such laws.