On Tuesday, the Haryana assembly passed the Haryana Prevention of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Bill, 2022 amid opposition by Congress and walkout from the assembly. The bill that was introduced during the budget session of the Vidhan Sabha on March 4, prohibits religious conversions which are effected ‘through misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means or by marriage’, making it an offense.
Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, while speaking on the bill, said that the bill is not aimed at discriminating against any religion and that it talks only about ‘forcible conversions’. “The bill is aimed at instilling fear among those who commit crimes. A person can change religion as per his own free will, but it will not be allowed to happen to anyone forcibly. Action will be taken against such people if they convert religion by deceit or by giving any kind of greed”, he said.
हरियाणा में जबरदस्ती धर्म परिवर्तन बिल्कुल नहीं होने दिया जाएगा।— Manohar Lal (@mlkhattar) March 22, 2022
इसी उद्देश्य से आज सदन में ‘हरियाणा विधिविरुद्ध धर्म परिवर्तन निवारण विधेयक, 2022’ पास कर दिया गया है। pic.twitter.com/p2sH0HXQjw
Criticizing the bill, the Leader of the Opposition, Bhupinder Singh Hooda stated that there was no requirement for a fresh law as the existing laws already have a provision of punishment for forcible conversions. He added that the implementation of new law might increase dispute among the families where inter-religion marriages have taken place. “If dispute takes place between the husband and wife after two years of marriage and a complaint is lodged against him for forcible conversion of religion, then the man would be behind the bars”, Hooda said suggesting addition of a provision in which no such complaint is lodged after a month of marriage.
Senior Congress leader Kiran Choudhary also called the new law a ‘black chapter’ in Haryana’s history and opined that the bill would deepen the communal divide and could have grave consequences in the future. Also, another senior Congress leader, Raghuvir Singh Kadian, said that there was no urgency for passing the bill and that it was a sharp slap of divisive politics, which he termed as ‘not good. He also said that inter-caste marriage should instead be encouraged by the government.
Provisions of the anti-conversion law in Haryana-
The Haryana Prevention of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Bill, 2022, provides for imprisonment of one to five years and a fine of not less than Rs 1 lakh, if the conversion is practiced by ‘allurement, use of force, fraudulent means or coercion’. According to the law, the onus of proof lies with the accused. It, however, provides an exemption in the case of a person who reconverts to his immediate previous religion as the same shall not be deemed to be a conversion under this Act.
Further the law says, whoever converts or attempts to convert a minor, a woman or a person belonging to the Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than four years and may extend to 10 years and liable to a fine not less than Rs 3 lakh. The bill also provides for declaring marriages, which were done solely for the purpose of conversion from one religion to another religion, null and void.
The draft of the Bill was approved by the state Cabinet chaired by CM Khattar in February. The government had then said to have noticed several instances of conversion with an agenda to increase the strength of one’s religion. “People marry persons of other religion by either misrepresentation or concealment of their religion and after getting married they force such other person to convert to their religion. Such incidents not only infringe the freedom of religion of the persons so converted but also militate against the secular fabric of our society”, the govt had said.
As noted by the Haryana Chief Minister, the new law solely aims at instilling fear in the minds of those who forcefully practice conversion in society with a vested interest. The bill is not aimed at discriminating against any religion.
Similar Bill passed by several Indian states-
It is important to note that similar anti-conversion bills have recently been passed in the states of Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and Karnataka with the opposition parties sharply criticizing the law. In the state of Karnataka, Congress and the members of the Christian community protested against the anti-conversion bill. Siddaramaiah, leader of the Opposition of the Karnataka Legislative Assembly also affirmed that the anti-conversion law would be rescinded when Congress would come to power. In the statement, he had said, “The Congress will scrap the anti-conversion bill within a week of the party coming to power”.
In November 2020, the state of Uttar Pradesh had also approved the bill titled Uttar Pradesh Vidhi Virudhh Dharm Samparivartan Pratisdhedh Adhyadesh, 2020 or UP Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion Ordinance 2020, criminalizing Love Jihad and other forms of illegal conversion. The law has provisions that can land offenders in jail for up to 1 to 5 years and attract a fine of Rs 15,000. The bill also has provisions for 10 years’ jail for mass conversion.
Other states like Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, and Uttarakhand have also passed anti-conversion bills.