Taking a cue from two neighbouring BJP-ruled states, UP and Haryana, now Himachal Pradesh government is also contemplating a separate law to curb religious conversions for marriage, described as “love jihad” by multiple BJP leaders.
This is despite the fact that the Jai Ram Thakur government had last year enacted a law relating to religious conversions with a specific clause dealing with conversions done for the purpose of marriage or inter-faith run-away marriages happening in the state.
Minister for law and parliamentary affairs Suresh Bhardwaj said, “Himachal Pradesh is not free from such (“love jihad”) cases happening now and then. Two or three cases happened in Shimla itself. The police invoked simple sections of the Indian Penal Code to file FIRs. This is not sufficient. We need stronger provisions to deal with the menace and exploitation of innocent girls.”
Bhardwaj hinted at considering UP’s recent ordinance against “love jihad” for reference. He is also likely to take a cue from Haryana’s recently set-up three-member committee for framing laws against “love jihad”.
Haryana home minister Anil Vij had earlier invoked the need of a stronger law to check forced religious conversions, and cases of “love –Jihad”.
The law which Himachal Pradesh had passed, primarily relates to religious conversions, allegedly done by Christian missionaries. However, it has a special provision which the former Congress government had passed.
“UP government‘s ordinance, as media reports suggest, deals with unlawful religious conversions and also inter-faith marriages with the sole intention of changing a girl’s religion, proposing a stricter punishment for a jail term of up to 10 years,” Bhardwaj said.
Following largescale reports of some Christian organisations resorting to illegal conversions alluring poor people, the Virbhadra Singh-led government had passed Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2006.
The Act was challenged in the High Court soon, which in 2012 struck down some of its provisions, mainly Section 4 (rule 3 and 5) wherein it was required for any person intending to convert to give notice to the deputy commissioner at least 30 days before.
In 2019, the Jai Ram Thakur government amended the law increasing the quantum of punishment from three to seven years and also expanding its scope to include cases of “love jihad”. The Opposition Congress also supported the law in the House.
A close reading of the two laws reveals that eight new provisions were added.
One of these covers marriage done with the sole purpose of conversion.
“Any marriage done for the sole purpose of conversion by a person of one religion with a person of another religion either by converting himself before or after marriage or by converting the other person before or after marriage may be declared null and void by the family court,” reads Section 5 of the Act.
According to Section 3, “No person shall convert or attempt to convert by either directly or indirectly, any other person from one religion to another by use of misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, inducement or any fraudulent means or by marriage, nor shall any person abet or conspire such conversion.”
Chief minister Thakur says the previous law was just cosmetic and lacked political power. During all these past years, not even a single case was filed under the 2006 Act, despite a series of religious conversions happening in areas of Ani in interior Kullu, Rampur in Shimla district, Chirgaon and Rohru (Shimla) and many other places of Chamba and Kangra.
All offences under the Act are cognizable and non-bailable. The punishment proposed ranges from one to five years but if the victim is a minor, woman or member of a Scheduled Caste or Tribe, the punishment will be up to seven years in jail and a fine of Rs 50,000.
Director-general of police, Sanjay Kundu, when contacted, said, “No FIR, so far, has been lodged under the Act. The police will re-examine the Act and suggest if any changes are required to make it stringent. We will also take a look at legal measures taken by other states.“
I.D. Bhandari, a former DGP, admitted that illegal conversions had happened in the state and may still be happening due to economic allurements, fraud, by force and misrepresenting of facts (like a Muslim posing as a Hindu), the law must be made strict as mostly the police had been using IPC sections in such offences that need to be re-examined.”
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), in its memorandum to the chief minister had alleged that many innocent girls in Himachal Pradesh are getting lured by dubious persons of other religion, who pose as Hindus by changing their identities. They very clearly target these teenage girls, con them by posing as Hindu boys and thereafter force them to convert once they get married. These cases have happened in Sirmaur, Chamba, Mandi, Bilaspur and Shimla.
In some cases, the girls have also been rescued and reunited with their parents.
"There is a strong need for a law in the country to deal with love jihad cases. This will save innocent girls, who are getting exploited or become victims to the criminal minds," suggested Prajwal Busta, a young woman activist and Chairperson Block Development Council (BDC), Jubbal Kotkhai.
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