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Himachal Pradesh assembly passes bill against forced conversions, proposes strict norms

A fraudulent marriage for the sole purpose of conversion can be deemed null and void under section 5 of the Bill.

The Himachal Pradesh assembly today passed the Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Bill, 2019. The Bill prohibits religious conversion by misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, inducement, marriage or any fraudulent means. The BJP government in Himachal Pradesh had tabled the bill in the Assembly today against conversion by force or inducement and through marriages conducted for the “sole purpose” of conversion. The government said it was a necessary step considering the rise in forced conversions in the state.

The Bill is designed to replace the Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2006. It will not apply to those who wish to reconvert to their parent religion. The Bill will be taken up for discussion on Friday after it was tabled, and later the bill was approved by the house.

Section 7 of the Act mandates that anyone who wishes to convert to another religion will have to inform the District Magistrate a month in advance, stating that the conversion is of his own accord. The priest who performs the conversion ceremony is also required to do inform authorities a month in advance.

The jail term for the fraudulent conversion of Dalits, women, and minors will be between two to seven years. For the fraudulent conversion of others, it is one to five years. A fraudulent marriage for the sole purpose of conversion can be deemed null and void under section 5 of the Act. Section 10 of the Act mandates that any person or organization violating the provisions of the Act will not be allowed to receive any donations from within or outside the country.

“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”, Chief Minister Thakur said while introducing the Bill.

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