Over a year after the legislation was passed by the Himachal Pradesh Assembly, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in the state has made a law to check "forcible religious conversions".
Governor Bandaru Datatrya has given an assent to the Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act of 2019 that was passed unanimously in the assembly on August 30, 2019.
A notification regarding the implementation of the law was issued by the Home Department on December 18.
Cutting across party lines, the ruling BJP and the Congress had passed the Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Bill, 2019, with the latter initially expressing some resentment over the need to introduce the Bill as there was already an existing legislation that was brought by the Congress government in 2006.
CPI-M's lone member Rakesh Singha, however, had expressed apprehensions over certain provisions of the Bill.
As per the law, "no person shall convert or attempt to convert, either directly or otherwise, any other person from one religion to another by use of misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, inducement or by fraudulent means".
There is a provision of jail term for up to seven years, says the law.
Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur, who had introduced the Bill in the assembly, had said: "We are not able to stop religious conversions after that Act (2006). No case was registered so far despite several cases of religious conversions coming to light. The previous act needed 10 amendments, so we decided to bring the new Bill. The new act will be more stringent."
"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," the Chief Minister had said.
The Chief Minister had said the Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2006, was enacted to provide for prohibition of conversion from one religion to another by use of force or inducement or by fraudulent means. After the enactment, the society had undergone many transitional changes, he had said.