The Himachal Pradesh Assembly passed a bill on Saturday forbidding “mass conversion” and enhancing the maximum punishment to ten years imprisonment in its 2019 law against any change of religion through force or allurement.
The Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2022, was passed unanimously with a voice vote.
The bill inserts the reference to “mass conversion”, which is described as two or more people converting at the same time, in the 2019 Act, and proposes to increase the punishment for forced conversions to a maximum of ten years from seven years.
The Jai Ram Thakur-led BJP government introduced the bill on Friday. It is a more stringent version of the Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2019, which came into force barely two and half years ago.
The 2019 Act was notified on December 21 2020. The 2019 version had in turn replaced a 2006 law which prescribed lesser punishments.
Introducing the bill on Friday, Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur said the 2019 Act did not have a provision to curb mass conversion, and “therefore, a provision to this effect is being made.” The bill seeks to amend sections 2, 4, 7 and 13 and insert another section 8A in the 2019 Act.
The Hindu nationalist party has been a vocal supporter of anti-conversion laws and many BJP-ruled states have introduced similar measures.
Many BJP-ruled states have seen a rise in attacks against Christians and Muslims after the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) passed an anti-conversion law in states.
This comes in the wake of criticisms and accusations from India’s religious minorities that they allege the BJP governments in the Union and states have been criminalising religious conversions. Amid a rising tide of Hindu nationalism in India under Modi, Hindutva groups have long accused minority Muslims and Christians of taking over the country by persuading Hindu women to marry them and financially assisting the Hindus and convert to Islam and Christianity.