Forced conversions could be draw an imprisonment of up to 5 years.
Jaipur: The permission of the concerned district collector may soon become mandatory for religious conversions in Rajasthan. Forced conversions could be draw an imprisonment of up to 5 years. A Religious Freedom Bill passed by the Rajasthan Assembly in 2008, which was stuck for 11 years due to opposition from Congress, is now awaiting the President’s approval.
The BJP government filed an affidavit in Jodhpur court in response to its notice issued last week on a habeas corpus writ petition seeking production of 22-year-old Aarifa. The girl had converted from her religion and married a Muslim youth and allowed to go with her husband. During the preliminary hearing on the petition on November 1, a Division Bench of the High Court had raised questions about Aarifa’s conversion and the inter-faith marriage. The state government was asked by the court if there was any law in Rajasthan that governed conversions.
The Union Home Ministry had called the officers of the state government for the review of state bills stuck with the central government last week. Law and Home Department officers were present in this. After this, senior deputy secretary of Home Department, Jagdeep Singh Kushwah, wrote a letter to the Additional Secretary of the Home Ministry clarifying that the state government’s bill is in accordance with the provisions of the constitution. The suggestions of the Attorney General have been accepted and corrections made accordingly.
According to the Religious Freedom Bill, In the case of forcible conversion, forgery or fraud, the accused will be sentenced to one to three years and fine of Rs 25 thousand will be imposed. Changing the religion of a person who is less than 18 years of age or children of a woman or SC-ST category will have a sentence of 2 to 5 years and a fine of up to Rs 50 thousand. The registration of organizations which are found to be working illegally in religion can be canceled.
If the religion is being changed by a person, the collector will have to be informed in 30 days. If not, Rs 1000 can be fined. The collector can give permission for religious conversion only after investigating the matter. If a person returns to the original religion, then he will not have to inform the District Magistrate. Returning to the original religion will not be considered as a crime.
The Congress has been opposing the bill for 11 years. The bill was passed for the first time in April 2006, when the Congress opposed it and its leaders met the then governor Pratibha Patil stating that the provisions can be misused. The governor had returned the bill to the state government. In June 2006, the State Government sent the bill again to the Governor, which was sent by the Raj Bhavan to the President in June 2007. In March 2008, the state government brought a new bill, which had been sent to the President. Bill is currently stuck with the Home Ministry.
The provisions in their bill made regarding religious conversions are five times stricter than the law prevailing in Madhya Pradesh. The maximum age of minority in MP has been assumed to be 8 years. In Rajasthan, anyone less than 18 will be considered as a minor according to the bill. This means religious conversion of a child below 18 years of age cannot be allowed. In MP, there is a penalty of Rs 5000 and one year sentence for conversions done with fraudulent ways. Here the fine will be Rs 25000 along with a sentence of one to three years. Also, there is a provision to cancel the registration of the organization which is engaged in conversion in MP.
State BJP President Ashok Paranami was quoted as saying that while he is not aware of the status of the bill, it is the Congress which has always opposed it. On the other hand state Congress President, Sachin Pilot said that he isn’t aware of the bill that has been sent to the President. He declined to make any comments without studying the provisions. A hearing in this matter will take place in the court on Tuesday.