Jharkhand Assembly, a state legislative body in northeastern India, passed the Jharkhand Freedom of Religion Bill-2017, also known as “Jharkhand Dharma Swatantra Adhiniyam,” on Saturday, August 12.
The bill will now be sent to the governor, after whose endorsement it would go to the president for final assent.
The bill was passed by the BJP-led government in spite significant opposition from religious groups, civil society, and the tribal group across Jharkhand.
“This is very unfortunate for the people of Jharkhand,” Rev. Dr. Man Maish Ekka, a member of the Jharkhand Sadbhavana Munch, a local religious freedom forum. “This is not just an attack on Christians, but is an attack on the religious freedom that the constitution gives to very citizens of this country. The motive of the bill is to divide the tribal people and break their unity.”
“[These] anti-conversion laws, ironically titled freedom of religion laws, are actually aimed at taking away the freedom of religion and rights of tribal and other marginalized sections of the Indian society,” Rev. Vijayesh Lal, General Secretary Evangelical Fellowship of India, stated in a press statement.
Section 3 of the law states, “No person shall attempt to convert, either directly or otherwise, any person from one religious faith to another by use of force or by allurement or by any fraudulent means, nor shall any person abet any such conversion.”
Punishment under this bill would include imprisonment of up to three years, a fine of 50,000 Rupees, or both. In situations where a minor, a woman, or a man from the Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe communities were involed, the prison sentence would increase to four years and the fine to 100,000 Rupees.
Although similar laws exist in six other states in India, those governments have not expain the terms “inducement,” “coercion,” “force,” or “fraud” in the context of religious conversions. Because of this legal ambiguity, these laws have been broadly abuse by radical Hindu nationalist groups to harass and threaten Christians while asserting to be under the auspices of state law. The BJP, having the power both at the national level and the state, needs to execute its Hindutva ideology. This bill will further divide people of Jharkhand; especially divide the tribal people who lived in solidarity for a long time.”