The Himachal Pradesh Assembly on Saturday (12 August) passed the Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2022, which seeks to make the state's 2019 anti-conversion law more stringent.
The bill, inter alia, punishes Mass Conversions, Concealing religion for marriage, taking benefits of parents' caste/religion even after conversion, etc.
The bill makes it mandatory for a person who desires to be converted to other religion to give a declaration at least one month in advance, to the District Magistrate or the Executive Magistrate, that he shall not take any benefit of his parent religion or caste after conversion.
Not just that, a person who continues to take benefit of his parent religion or caste even after conversion, shall have to suffer imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than two years but which may extend to five years, and shall also be liable to fine which shall not be less than Rupees fifty thousand and may extend to Rupees one lakh.
It may be noted that the existing 2019 Act has a provision (Section 3) that prohibits conversion from one religion to another through coercion, misrepresentation or fraudulent means. However, this provision did not punish mass conversion. Now, the amendment act punishes offence of mass conversion (discussed later on the story).
Introducing the bill in the state assmebly, Chief Minister Jairam Thakur also said that since the 2019 Act didn't contain any provision to curb mass conversion, therefore, a provision to this effect is being added in the parent act.
Now, the amendment bill essentially aims to adds certain clauses to this very provision, that is Section 3 of the 2019 Act [Prohibition of conversion from one religion to another by misrepresentation, force, fraud, undue influence, coercion, inducement or marriage] by adding/making changes in the following manner:
- If a person who intends to marry a person of any religion other than the religion professed by him and conceals his religion in such a manner that the other person whom he intends to marry, believes that his religion is tuly the one professed by him, then he shall be punished with a minimumn 3 years of imprisonment which maye extend to 10 years of imprisonment. In such a case, a fine shall also be imposed which shall not be less than Rupees fifty thousand, but which may extend to Rupees one lakh.
- 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. In such a case, a fine shall also be imposed which shall not be less than Rupees one lakh to Rupees one lakh fifty thousand. The bill defines 'mass conversion' as a conversion wherein two or more than two persons are converted at the same time.
- In case of a second or subsequent offence, the term of imprisonment shall not be less than seven years, but may extend to ten years and shall also be liable to fine which shall not be less than Rupees one lakhfifty thousand which may extend to Rupees two lakh.
- In case of contravention of Section 3 in respect of a minor, a woman or a person belonging to the Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe, the punishment shall not be less than two years but which may extend to 10 years and shall also be liable to pay fine.