The Himachal Pradesh Assembly on Saturday passed an anti-conversion Bill that bans forced mass conversions, reported PTI. The law defines mass conversion as in which two or more people change their religion at the same time.
The Bharatiya Janata Party-led state government had introduced the Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2022, on Friday. It was passed by a voice vote on Saturday.
The Bill is more stringent than the 2019 Act, banning converts from availing themselves of any benefit from their parents’ religion. The 2022 Bill also increases the punishment for illegal conversions to 10 years from seven years.
The Bill will become a law after the governor approves it.
On Saturday, the Opposition parties, including the Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), opposed the proposed law.
Congress MLA Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu and CPI(M) legislator Rakesh Singha demanded that the Bill be sent to a select committee for examination.
Sukhu expressed reservations on the provision that bars a convert from taking any benefit of his parent religion or caste, but the government claimed that it is in line with the Constitution.
Congress MLA Jagat Singh Negi argued that depriving members of Scheduled Castes who convert to other religions of the benefit of reservation was against the spirit of the Constitution.
He said that even if the government makes the anti-conversion stringent, the conversion will not stop until the mentality of the citizens is changed.
Parliamentary Affairs minister Suresh Bhardwaj, however, argued that the rights of Adivasis will not change.
Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur alleged that followers of some religions were attempting to convert Adivasis and his party was more conscious than others about protecting their rights.
Several BJP-led states have enacted anti-conversion laws since last year to penalise “love jihad”. The term has been used by Hindutva outfits to push the conspiracy theory that Muslim men lure Hindu women into marrying them with the sole purpose of converting their brides to Islam.
The Madhya Pradesh government has doubled the jail term for forced religious conversions for marriage from five years to 10 years in its draft bill against “love jihad”. The Uttar Pradesh and the Haryana governments have also passed similar laws.
The Karnataka government has passed a ordinance against forced religious conversion.