ICC Note: Uttarakhand has become the seventh state in India to pass a Freedom of Religion Act widely known as an anti-conversion law. The law allows the state to regulate the process of religious conversions and criminalize what it deems to be forced conversions. Across India, the legal ambiguities in similar laws are used by Hindu radicals to justify violent attacks on Christians.
05/04/2018 India (Eurasia Review) – Christian leaders have reacted cautiously to the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand passing a law criminalizing religious conversions.
The state’s government — led by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party — passed the Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion Bill on March 20. State governor Krishna Kant Paul signed it on April 18.
Darshan Singh Rawat, a senior state official, told ucanews.com May 2 the bill is now in the process of being published in a gazette which will permit it to be enforced.
The new law stipulates a two-year jail term for a forced religious conversion of a minor, a woman or a person belonging to the socially disadvantaged Dalit people or indigenous groups.
As per similar laws in other states, it requires a person officiating an act of conversion to inform state officials a month ahead of the ceremony. It also criminalizes an act of conversion using fraud, force or allurement with jail terms and fines.
Uttarakhand has become the seventh state to have such a law. The other states are Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh and Jharkhand.
The new law additionally states that any marriage formalized for the sole purpose of conversion by the man of one religion with the woman of another religion may be declared null and void by the family court.
Bishop Ignatius D’Souza of Bareilly, which covers part of Uttarakhand, told ucanews.com that church officials are aware of the new law but believed it wouldn’t adversely affect their mission work.
“We have been doing charitable work and preaching ministry among the people for decades and we have never had any serious problems,” Bishop D’Souza told ucanews.com.
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