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Crackdown on fraudulent and coerced conversions in Chhattisgarh as state government prepares to present religious conversion bill

The much-awaited religious conversion law was promised by the Bharatiya Janata Party and it has drafted bill for the same within months of coming to power in the state.

The Chhattisgarh state government is set to present a religious conversion bill in the assembly. The draft of the bill – Chhattisgarh Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion Bill – is ready and it has strict regulations regarding religious conversion to ensure that no fraudulent conversion or conversion by coercion takes place.

As per the draft, informing the district magistrate’s office 60 days before conversion will be mandatory according to the new law. The police will also have to verify the intent of the conversion. The much-awaited law was promised by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and it has drafted the bill for the same within months of coming to power.

According to a report by The Indian Express, the bill has various provisions to prohibit fraudulent religious conversions. According to the draft, individuals seeking to convert to another religion must complete a personal information form and submit it to the District Magistrate at least 60 days before the intended conversion date. Subsequently, the DM’s office will ask for a police assessment to determine the purpose behind the conversion. Additionally, those officiating the conversion ceremony must also submit a form at least one month in advance.

The draft bill mentions that religious conversion “cannot be done from one religion to another by the use or practice of abuse, force, undue influence, coercion, inducement or by any fraudulent means or by marriage”. If the District Magistrate finds any case of religious conversion of this type, the conversion will be deemed illegal as per the provisions in this bill.

According to the bill’s proposal, individuals who undergo conversion will need to complete an additional declaration form within 60 days post-conversion and appear before the District Magistrate for authentication. Failure to comply may result in the conversion being classified as illegal. Furthermore, the District Magistrate is required to publicly display a copy of the declaration on the office notice board until confirmation is obtained. The DM will also maintain a registry of all conversions.

If there is an objection, a relative by blood or adoption of the individual undergoing conversion can file a First Information Report (FIR). The draft bill specifies that such cases will be non-bailable and adjudicated by a sessions court. Individuals who unlawfully convert minors, women, or individuals belonging to Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes will be subject to imprisonment ranging from a minimum of two years to a maximum of ten years, along with a mandatory fine of at least Rs 25,000. In cases of mass conversion, the penalty will be imprisonment for a minimum of three years to a maximum of ten years, accompanied by a fine of Rs 50,000. Additionally, the court has the authority to grant compensation of up to Rs 5 lakh to victims of religious conversion.

The responsibility of proving that conversion was lawful will rest on the individual who performed the rituals. The legislation does not pertain to individuals seeking to revert to their previous religion. Fraudulent and coercive religious conversion of Hindu tribals to Christianity is one of the biggest social problems in Chhattisgarh. The state has long been subjected to demands from the RSS for an anti-conversion law. A law to halt the conversion was demanded by the RSS and its affiliates. Along with this, the RSS and its allies started a movement calling for the delisting of tribals who became Christians.

The “Ghar Wapsi” campaign in the Jashpur district of Chhattisgarh was initially promoted by the late Union Minister Dilip Singh Judeo, hailing from the former Royal family of Jashpur. Dilip Singh Judeo is the political Guru of Chhattisgarh’s Chief Minister Vishnu Deo Sai, who also hails from Jashpur. After becoming the chief minister, Sai said, “Judeo ji started the Ghar Wapsi campaign in Jashpur due to which our district is protected. Otherwise, the second biggest church in Asia is in our district and conversion takes place rapidly. Though he was a king, he washed the feet of converted people and brought them back to Hinduism, and today his son is carrying forward this work.”

In December 2023, Chhattisgarh’s Deputy Chief Minister Arun Sao stated in an exclusive interview with News18 that the conversion of the tribal population to Christianity by missionaries operating throughout the state has been a significant problem. He added that it needs to be addressed with appropriate government action. Now, as promised, the BJP government is bringing in a strict law to curb forced religious conversion.

Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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OpIndia Staff
OpIndia Staff
Staff reporter at OpIndia

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