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Himachal Pradesh bans mass conversions, 10-year jail for offenders

The amendment was tabled to the already existing Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2019.

In another surprising event in the poll-bound state of Himachal Pradesh, the Jairam Thakur-led BJP government very smartly tabled the amendment to Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2019 on the very last day of the final session of the current house before the state moves for elections planned to be conducted in November.

The bill was passed by the Himachal Pradesh assembly unanimously. With this, the maximum punishment for forced conversion was increased from the current seven years to ten years of jail term. The bill also warrants that the complaints made under the Act will be investigated by a police official no less than the rank of a sub-inspector.

In simple terms, the Himachal government amended the 2019 anti-conversion law by the Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2022. As per the government, the move was necessary to make the already existing law which prohibits conversions through coercion, misrepresentation or fraudulent means more stringent by addition of banning any kind of mass conversion which is purportedly described as two or more people converting at the same time.

Meanwhile, the opposition did argue that the amendment will interfere with the constitutional provisions for persons belonging to SC as well as ST communities. It was also mentioned that the amended law may lead to more difficulties for these vulnerable communities. To which the Chief Minister responded by saying that no specific community is at harm and that the law only demands that if a person is voluntarily converting then he or she should declare it beforehand.

While such kind of laws already exists in many BJP rules states, the timing of the happenings in Himachal does raise some eyebrows. With the hill state ready to hold polls later this year, only time will tell that whether this move was actually needed or was it just another way of gaining some extra brownie points for the incumbent BJP government.

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