The northern Indian state of Uttarakhand is the latest to approve a so-called “anti-conversion bill”, reports India’s Hindustan Times.
If the legislation passes into law at the state assembly later this month Uttarakhand will join Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat and Jharkhand in having anti-conversion laws. Rajasthan, Arunachal Pradesh and Tamil Nadu (later repealed) have also passed similar legislation.
An Uttarakhand official present at the cabinet meeting when the bill was approved told the Hindustan Times that “anyone seeking conversion is required to submit an application and an affidavit with the district magistrate one month in advance. Any failure to adhere to the guidelines might mean jail terms ranging from three months to a year”.
Uttarakhand’s state cabinet, led by Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat, passed the bill on 13 March, making it the sixth BJP-led state to adopt the legislation.
Jharkhand had been the most recent to pass such a bill after it was rushed through in August last year, when it was introduced and passed at the state assembly on the same day. Stephen Marandi, of the opposition Jharkhand Mukti Morcha party, said at the time: “The Constitution gives freedom to practise and profess one’s religion. There are already penal provisions… for those indulging in coercive conversion or using allurement, so what is the need for a separate bill?”
Known officially as Freedom of Religion Bills, they are ostensibly aimed at preventing religious conversions by force, but often used to settle personal scores, with members of religious minorities frequently targeted.
Last month Hindu nationalists in the southern state of Telangana accused a group of Christians of “brainwashing people” to convert them to Christianity, adding that there should be an “anti-conversion law” in their state to “control” the Christians.