Governor approves Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Act
Polity & Governance
30th Dec, 2022
The Governor of Uttarakhand has approved the freedom of Religion (Amendment) Act, 2022 which aims to criminalise forced conversions in state.
About the Act:
- As per the amended bill, conversion by force, greed or fraud will be a crime in the State. Those found guilty will get imprisoned for up to 10 years.
- In the new law, a fine of Rs 50,000 has been made compulsory. Anyone found guilty of conversion will have to pay up to Rs 5 lakh to the victim.
- Key features: The bill, therefore, seeks to:-
- Prohibit religious conversions which are effected through misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means or by marriage by making it an offence.
- Provide greater punishmentfor such conversion in respect of the Minor, Women, Scheduled Castes or the Scheduled Tribes.
- Provide that the onus of proof that the conversionwas not effected through misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means or by marriage lies on the person converting them and the person converted; and
- Provide that every individual converting from one religion to another shall submit to the prescribed authority a declaration that the conversion was not effected through misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means or by marriage and such authority shall make an inquiry in such cases;
- Declare marriages null and void, which were done solely for the purpose of conversion of girls from one religion to another religion, on the complaint of the girl or her parents.
Need for such legislation:
- The Constitution confers on each individual the fundamental right to profess, practice and propagate his religion.
- The right to freedom of religion is guaranteed under Articles 25, 26, 27 and 28 of the Constitution of India, which provide religious freedom to all citizens of India.
- The objective of this right is to sustain the spirit of secularism in India. According to the Constitution, State has no religion and all religions are equal before the State and no religion shall be given preference over the other.
- Citizens are free to preach, practice and propagate any religion of their choice.
- However, the individual right to freedom of conscience and religion cannot be extended to construe a collective right to proselytize; for the right to religious freedom belongs equally to the person converting and the individual seeking to be converted.
- Still, there have been umpteen cases of religious conversions, both mass and individual.
- The presence of pseudo-social organizationswith a hidden agenda to convert the vulnerable sections of other religions has been noticed.
- There have been instances when gullible people have been converted by offering allurement or under undue influence. Some have been forced to convert to other religions.
Other laws related to forced conversion:
- Several States in India already have their own Right to Freedom of Religion Acts such as Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Arunachal Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.
- The Uttarakhand High Court in the case of Girish Kumar Sharma v. the State of Uttarakhandalso emphasized the need for the Freedom of Religion Act for the State of Uttarakhand to curb sham practices of conversion only for the purpose of marriage.
- Such incidents not only infringe on the freedom of religion of the persons so converted but also militate against the secular fabric of our society.