PATNA: Jharkhand’s BJP-led government headed by chief minister Raghubar Das on Tuesday cleared the draft of an anti-conversion bill with provisions of jail term up to four years and fine up to Rs 1 lakh for those converting anyone’s religion through force or allurement.
With the government planning to introduce the bill in the Assembly’s upcoming monsoon session starting August 8, opposition parties Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) and Congress said they would protest against any legislation that seeks “to impose the RSS ideology on tribals”.
The proposed legislation, christened Religious Freedom Bill, 2017, originated out of concerns in Jharkhand about a significant rise in the Christian and Muslim population in the state in recent years. If it is passed, which is a foregone conclusion given the majority the BJP-led government has in the Assembly, Jharkhand will become the sixth state to have an anti-conversion law.
Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat already have the law in place.
The Jharkhand cabinet cleared the bill that has provisions such as a minimum jail term of three years and/or a fine of Rs 50,000, or both, for anyone found guilty of converting people. A four-year jail term and/or a fine of Rs 1 lakh, or both, would be meted out to anyone found converting a minor girl belonging to a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe, said sources familiar with the draft bill.
Checking religious conversions in Jharkhand, where tribals account for 26 per cent of the state’s total population, has been a pet theme of the BJP-led government’s agenda since it came to power in December 2014. As per the 2011 census, Jharkhand’s Christian population grew by 29.7 per cent and that of Muslims by 28.4 per cent while the Hindu population rose by 21 per cent in the previous ten years.
The proposed law is likely to increase the ongoing confrontation between the combined forces of BJP and RSS, which has been active in most parts of Jharkhand for decades, and the Church.
The Raghubar Das government’s recent bid to amend two decades-old tenancy laws, which have so far prevented the tribal people’s alienation from their land, was foiled by strong protests and finally governor Droupadi Murmu’s refusal to sign it into law.
“Laws like this will divide Jharkhand’s tribal society. We will strongly oppose it,” said JMM spokesperson Supriyo Bhattacharya, accusing the government of over-enthusiasm to check religious conversions.