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Explained: Himachal Pradesh’s law against religious conversion

10th November, 2020 GOVERNANCE

 Context: Haryana Home Minister said that his government is considering a law against forced religious conversions and has sought information about such a law already in force in Himachal Pradesh.

Last year, the Himachal Pradesh assembly passed the Freedom of Religion Bill, 2019.

What is the Himachal Pradesh anti-conversion law?

  • The state had enacted a law in 2007 which prohibited conversion from one religion to another by force or fraud.
  • Argument given: The society has undergone many transition changes. 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 the different ethnic and religious groups in the state,”

What does the law say?

  • 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”.
  • Any marriage done for the sole purpose of religion conversion may be declared null and void by a court on a petition by either party.

What happens if anyone wants to convert to any other 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”.
  • Even the religious 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.

The burden of proof

  • The burden of proof as to whether a religious conversion was not effected through force or fraud lies on the person so converted, or the person who has facilitated the conversion.

What is the punishment?

  • 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.