Uttarakhand cabinet approves draft bill to make forced religious conversions a non-bailable offence

The Uttarakhand state cabinet has approved the draft bill called ‘Dharm Swatantrata Adhiniyam‘ under which forced and illegal conversions will be a non-bailable offence. The state government is aiming to curb the incidences of religious conversions by means of force, bribes or incentives and duping. Under this bill, a person, if caught with being involved in such practice will have to face a jail term from one year to five years. The minimum jail term will be two years if the victims belong to SC or ST category.

According to reports, if a person wants to convert voluntarily, he/she will have to submit an affidavit with the respective District Magistrate one month prior, in order to clarify that the conversion is voluntary and not forced.

Any conversions, if found not to have followed the above will be invalidated and considered illegal by the government. If a person wants to convert for the purpose of marriage, he/she will also have to submit the same affidavit.

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The Trivendra Singh Rawat led state cabinet convened for four hours on different issues on Monday in the state assembly. Under this bill, even organised events for religious conversions will be illegal if not notified to the government one month prior.

The government’s decision is in line with the order of the Uttarakhand High Court in November last year when the bench headed by Justice Rajiv Sharma had suggested that the state government should formulate the Freedom of Religion Act to check the practice of religious conversion for the sole purpose of facilitating a marriage. The HC had asked the state government to legislate a law on the analogy of the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act 1968 and the Himachal Freedom of religion act 2006.

A bench headed by Justice Rajiv Sharma had said, “It needs to be mentioned that the court has come across a number of cases where inter-religion marriages are being organised. However, in few instances, the conversion from one religion to another religion is a sham conversion only to facilitate the process of marriage. In order to curb this tendency, the state government is expected to legislate the Freedom of Religion Act on the analogy of Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 1968 as well as Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2006, without hurting the religious sentiments of citizens.”

Under the bill, the immediate family members of the concerned person who has been converted can register a case.

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