he Raghubar Das government in Jharkhand on Tuesday cleared the draft of an anti-conversion bill which discourages conversion to another religion through force or allurement even as opposition, religious groups and tribal activists criticised the move.
The Jharkhand Anti-Conversion bill is likely to be tabled in the upcoming monsoon session of the assembly beginning August 8, home department sources said.
As per the draft, anyone found guilty of forcibly converting ones religion through force or allurement, would be liable for punishment that includes jail term of three years and fine Rs 50,000.
Individuals voluntarily opting to switch to another religion would have to inform the local deputy commissioner/collector about the reasons and the place of conversion, failing which he will be liable for prosecution and punishment.
As per the cabinet decision, if forced conversion is found against minor, tribal, SC or woman, the culprit would be liable for imprisonment of up to four years and fine of Rs 1 lakh.
If passed, Jharkhand would become the sixth Indian state to have an ‘anti-conversion law’ following Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh.
Ever since the BJP government came to power with a full majority in December 2014, it has stepped up efforts to check religious conversion, specifically of tribals, who constitute 26% of the state’s total population.
The trigger for the proposed bill came early this year when the government of India released the population census. As per the 2011 census, the Christian population in Jharkhand rose by a whopping 29.7% in the last 10 years followed by that of Muslims 28.4%, while Hindu population rose by 21%.
To begin with, the government curbed the flow of government funds to various Christian affiliate social organisations and development groups that were allegedly misusing government money to convert people.
Chief minister Das has voiced his concerns over the conversion of tribals through force or allurement on several occasions, and asked gullible tribals to protect their culture and religious practices at any cost.
“Those indulging in forcible religious conversion would not be spared,” Das had said at a couple of public meetings in Gumla and Khunti, urging tribals not to fall prey to the baits of Christian missionary organisations.
Christian and pro-Christian tribal groups had then raised objections over the CM’s remarks. Senior IAS officer Vandana Dadel, a tribal and practicing Catholic, shared her anguish on Facebook over the government’s over-indulgence in checking religious conversions, which, she said, is an individual’s choice and hence, should be left to the people.
Christian groups have again upped their ante, this time, against the proposed legislation.
“The BJP government’s intentions are not good. It wants to divide the tribals to further their political agenda in preparations for the next election,” said Prem Chand Murmu, president of Adivasi Budhijivi Manch (ABM).
“Conversion is an individual choice. When one converts, his religion changes, not his caste. Reservation is given on basis of caste, not religion. But the BJP government is relating conversion to caste, which is not fair. We will protest the legislation,” he said.
Murmu on Monday called on the National ST Commission and drew its attention towards the alleged violation of democratic rights of tribals in the state.
Opposition Congress and JMM too criticised the proposed legislation. “BJP wants to impose the RSS ideology on tribals and further their divide and rule agenda in the state,” said state Congress secretary, Aditya Vikram Jaiswal.
JMM spokesperson Supriyo Bhattacharya said the legislation is aimed at creating friction among the tribal society, which does not augur well for the secular fabric of the nation. “We will oppose the legislation tooth and nail,” he said.