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Chhattisgarh Government Readies ‘Religious Conversion Bill,’ Police to ‘Assess Intent’

Within months of taking over as the Chief Minister of Chattisgarh, Vishnu Deo Sai is all set to introduce the ‘religious conversion bill’ in the state Assembly in the upcoming days, reports The Indian Express

Vishnu Deo Sai-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government gears up to regulate ‘religious conversions’, as it states that conversions “cannot be done from one religion to another by the use or practice of abuse, force, undue influence, coercion, inducement or by any fraudulent means or by marriage”.

If at all the District Magistrate discovers that the conversion was in violation of the aforementioned statement, the particular conversion will be deemed illegal. 

The draft of Chhattisgarh Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion Bill, could be amended before the final version is presented in the Assembly, as per a few sources.

The bill mandates the person who wishes to convert to another religion to alert the District Magistrate 60 days in advance, who will then ask the police to assess the “real intention, reason and purpose”. Similarly, the person who performs the conversion ceremony will have to fill a form at least a month in advance.

In addition to that, after the conversion, the person is supposed to fill another declaration form within 60 days and present himself or herself before the DM for verification. Failing which, the conversion can be rendered illegal. “The DM will display a copy of the declaration on the notice board of his office until the date of confirmation”, it said.

A registry of all those who convert is to be maintained by the DM. “The burden of proof that a conversion was not illegal will be on the person who conducted the rituals,” the bill states.

In case of an objection to the conversion, the converting individual’s blood relative or those related by adoption can file a First Information Report (FIR). It further states that the case will be non-bailable and triable by a sessions court.

The bill makes mention of the penalty for certain violations too. “Illegally conversion” of minors, women, or members of a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe will be penalized with a minimum of two years and a maximum of 10 years in jail, as well as a minimum fine of Rs 25,000. Mass conversions will be penalized with a minimum of three years and a maximum of 10 years with a fine of  Rs 50,000. A compensation of up to Rs 5 lakh is to be granted to the victim of religious conversion, on the court’s approval. 

Notably, the law is not applicable to those who want to re-convert to their previous religion.

A law promised by the BJP

Previously, when the Congress government was in power, multiple instances of attacks on tribals who converted to Christianity were witnessed in districts such as Kondagaon and Narayanpur. 

For a considerable period, the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak (RSS) has been advocating for the “anti-conversion law”. Following which, the BJP had made conversions an electoral issue, ahead of the assembly polls.

In an exclusive interview with News18, in December 2023, Chhattisgarh’s Deputy Chief Minister Arun Sao stated “We have to stop the conversion of tribal population in the state. It is a crucial issue which has to be addressed. We will take whatever measures are possible in the legal framework to stop this,”. 

Now, the BJP government is steps away from fulfilling its promise of introducing a law to curb forced religious conversion.

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