Anti-Conversion Bill Passed In Jharkhand

The draft of the Jharkhand Freedom of Religion Bill 2017 has been approved by the Raghubar Das Cabinet.1. The Bill prohibits religious conversion by means of force or allurement. It states:
No person shall convert to attempt to convert, either directly or otherwise, any person from one religion/ religious faith to another by the use of force or by allurement or by any fraudulent means, nor shall any person abet any such conversion.

The Bill further prescribes that any religious conversion must only follow prior permission from the District Magistrate:
(1) Whoever converts any person from one religion/religious faith to another, either by performing any ceremony by himself for such conversion as a religious priest or takes part directly or indirectly in such ceremony shall take prior permission for such proposed conversion from the District Magistrate concerned by applying in such form as may be prescribed by rules.
(2) The person who is converted shall send intimation to the District Magistrate of the District concerned in which the ceremony has taken place of the fact of such conversion within such period and in such form as may be prescribed by rules.
(3) Whoever fails without sufficient cause, to comply with the provisions of sub-section (1) and (2) shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or with fine which may extend to rupees five thousand or with both.

The Evangelical Fellowship of India responded immediately:
We note that similar laws already exist in the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat. They were made in Rajasthan, and were made and withdrawn in Tamil Nadu.

Although such laws existed in some Hindu principalities in colonial India in early 20th Century, since Independence, the Union or state government have not been able to define the terms inducement, coercion, force or fraud in the context of religion. The Government and in fact the Supreme Court have not given a definitive definition of the term ‘religion’ specially when it relates to faiths other than Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, or Buddhism and also has not yet explained, after 70 years of being a Republic, indigenous faith and belief systems of hundreds, if not thousands of small communities across the country, and especially in what are called tribal areas, are not listed separately but are lumped together under the majority religion.

The government has also not been able to adduce any proof or evidence over half a century of aggressive implementation of such laws, of any forcible conversions by Christians against whom such laws are essentially targeted. There are hardly any convictions in courts to sustain police and political allegations of forcible and fraudulent conversions. As a matter of fact, the Himachal Pradesh High Court, a few years ago, struck down efforts by the government to force prior approval, after the Evangelical Fellowship of India moved a petition along with other parties.2

Religious conversion is a burning issue in India. During the Independence Movement, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, had concluded that there was no dignity for the depressed classes as long as they identified themselves with the Hindu caste religion. He converted to Buddhism. He strongly opposed Gandhi's decry of religious conversions of the depressed classes. Gandhi regarded the "Harijan" (a term he coined) as not possessing the calibre for freedom of religious decision. Ambedkar opposed that. The concern of most leaders has been that the masses are incapable of decision making in matters of religion. However, these political leaders were elected by exercise of the freedom of decision by the same masses. Or was it that lure and force were used to conjure votes? Why not pass a Political Freedom Bill that requires any citizen voting for a political party to obtain prior permission from the Magistrate? Of course, this is unimaginable. The idea of prior permission is antithetical to the idea of freedom. Of course, these laws will not prevent citizens from exercising religious freedom. Religious conversions will continue to occur though many may not find it necessary to report their matters of conscience to the state.

One thing is positive about such laws, however. They prove that religious conversions that take place in spite of such laws cannot be called as inauthentic and false anymore. Faith conversion (a better word) cannot be challenged when one has genuine grounds for his/her personal belief.

See Also

Anti-Conversion Laws In India

1 Jharkhand Cabinet Clears Anti-Conversion Bill, Indian Express, Aug 2, 2017.
2Jharkhand Bill Ignores Himachal Lesson - (Download Bill copy)