Shimla (Agenzia Fides) - "This new law is a clear expression of the state's intention to limit the right to freedom of conscience and religion. As a multi-ethnic nation composed of different religious groups, India must respect the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion for all people. Citizens must be free in the right of individual choice. We urge state legislators to reconsider this move that dishonors the fundamental Constitution of India". With these words Mervyn Thomas, at the head of the NGO "Christian Solidarity Worldwide", engaged in the world for the defense of the rights of believers, comments on the provision approved in recent days by the Legislative Assembly of the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. The new law criminalizes religious conversion and replicates a provision already introduced in 2006 and subsequently canceled by the High Court of the State.
As Agenzia Fides learns, the new law extends the crimes to "conversion by coercion" as well as fraud, force or incentive. In the law the term "incentive" means "the offer of any temptation in the form of gifts, gratifications or material benefits, in money or work, free education in the school run by any religious body".
According to Article 3 of the new law, there is no crime if a person converts to his parents’ religion. The law provides for a sentence of up to five years in prison, which can reach seven in the case of marriage, celebrated for the purpose of religious conversion, to a person belonging to a recognized caste or tribe.
John Dayal, a Catholic civil rights activist, said: "The renewal and worsening of the anti-conversion law by the Himachal Pradesh government is surprising, as was the provision first enacted in 2006. Himachal Pradesh is located in the lower Himalayas, and is made up of small communities that live far from one another. There are no attempts to convert by force, fraud or incentives. It is always religious minorities that find themselves isolated and targeted". (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 10/9/2019)