The Jharkhand government cleared the draft of the "Jharkhand Freedom of Religion Bill 2017" also known as "Jharkhand Dharma Swatantra Adhiniyam", on 2nd August 2017. The Bill will be tabled in the upcoming Monsoon Session of the Legislative Assembly which begins on 8th August 2017.
The Bill is to come into force from its date of issuance.
Section 3 of the draft says, "No person shall attempt to convert, either directly or otherwise, any person from one religion / religious faith to another by use of force or by allurement or by any fraudulent means, nor shall any person abet any such conversion."
Violation of the terms of the above section shall invite imprisonment up to three years or Rupees 50,000 or both. In case the violation involves a minor, a woman or a person from the SC/ST community, the prison term would be up to four years and the penalty up to Rupees 1 lakh.
Section 5 of the draft also makes prior permission mandatory for conversion and demands that the person who converts any other person from one religion / religious faith to another, either by performing the ceremony 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 by applying in such form as may be prescribed by rules.
The draft also demands that the convert intimates the District Magistrate of the District in which the conversion ceremony has taken place of the fact of such conversion "within such period and such form as may be prescribed by the rule."
Failure to comply with the provisions of Section 5 of the draft will invite imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or with fine which may extend to five thousand or both.
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 They were made in Rajasthan, and were made and withdrawn in Tamil Nadu.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.
More surprising are efforts by the governments to uphold if not encourage conversions from Christianity and other religions to the majority systems, giving the people allurement of reservations and other rights.
The law comes in the backdrop of a well-orchestrated demand, in fact a promise, by the ruling BJP, for a national legislation. This will go against not just Constitutional guarantees of freedom of faith for citizens who profess religions other than Hinduism, but will also violate the federal structure in which law and order is a state subject.
The anti-conversion laws have brought India unnecessary opprobrium internationally. Anti-conversion laws are routinely listed as the negative practices of the Indian system, in review of our Human Rights record at various international fora.
As with the anti-Dalit Christian laws, the so called anti-conversion laws, ironically titled freedom of religion laws, are actually aimed at taking away the freedom of religion and rights of Tribals and other marginalized sections of the Indian society.
Christians organizations have often pointed out that such laws, and the impunity they generate, have been used to wreak violence on pastors, Nuns, and Church-run educational and religious institutions throughout the country. They are sometimes deemed to be in force in states where they actually do not exist.