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ICC Note:

The government of Jharkhand State in India has approved an anti-conversion bill which will be submitted for vote to the state assembly later this session. The bill will regulate religious conversions and make any conversion through allurement or coercion illegal. Christians in Jharkhand fear this development as anti-conversion laws are often abused by Hindu radicals seeking to harass any evangelism efforts. Will Jharkhand become the sixth state in India to enact an anti-conversion law? 

08/02/2017 India (The Indian Express) – The Raghubar Das cabinet on Tuesday approved an anti-conversion bill, called the Religious Freedom Bill, 2017, which forbids conversion through allurement or coercion. According to its provisions, a minimum jail term of three years and/or a fine of Rs 50,000, or both, will be imposed on persons found guilty of converting people. In the case of a minor girl belonging to Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe being converted, the punishment will extend to four years in prison and/or Rs 1 lakh as fine, or both. The bill will be introduced during the monsoon session of the state Assembly, set to start later this month.

As and when the bill is passed, the act is likely to intensify the confrontation between the BJP and its allied organizations and the Church. They have openly been at loggerheads ever since the proposed tenancy act amendments were introduced through a bill last year. However, the government was forced to re-consider it after it was returned by the Governor, without assent. The BJP had then openly alleged that the Church was behind the protests organized across the state, which created a negative atmosphere with respect to the proposed changes. The Church too had come out openly petitioning the Governor against the proposed amendments.

In a cabinet meeting held on Tuesday evening, the cabinet approved the draft bill. Section 3 of the Bill provides for punitive action against conversion using coercion or allurement. In the case of a minor, belonging to Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe, being converted, the punishment will increase from three years to four years and/or the fine would be up from Rs 50,000 to Rs 1 lakh, said an official, following the meeting.

In the case of those converting willingly, the district administration will have to be informed regarding the details of the conversion, and the time, place, reason etc, or face action. Some of the other states where such legislations have been brought into effect include Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

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