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A Saffron Leash On Religion

A Saffron Leash On Religion

Jharkhand is among the five States whose performance is the worst in per capita income, percentage of people in below poverty line, and child mortality rate. Even almost two decades after becoming a State, it has not come out of its low rank in economic and social indicators. It has now added another ‘feather’ to its cap, joining the company of six States -- Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Himachal Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Gujarat – by bringing the draconian Freedom of Religion Bill. It is surely a case of misplaced priority of a State which is lagging behind in many socio-economic sectors despite being one of the richest States in mineral and natural resources. 

When crimes of a particular nature are on the rise, the government resorts to new laws or amendment to the existing ones. The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2008 is a case in point. In the wake of the infamous Nirbhaya case, with sexual assaults on women on the rise, the government came up with the new law, popularly called Nirbhaya Act, to come down heavily on sexual offenders. Ironically, anti-conversion laws are enacted despite the fact that no government has been able to adduce any proof or evidence, in the last several decades, for forcible conversions by Christians against whom such laws are essentially targeted. There has hardly been any conviction in courts to substantiate the allegations of fraudulent conversion. It is a mockery that in the name of freedom of religion, the law takes away one’s freedom to choose a religion.

The Jharkhand Bill has more teeth than similar Bills passed by other States. In most other States where the Act is in force, it is the person who converts another who has to take permission from the respective District Magistrate. But, the Jharkhand Bill goes a step further and makes it compulsory for the one who is converted to intimate the District Magistrate of the conversion, failure of which has been made a non-bailable offence. It seems the Jharkhand government has not learnt a lesson from the Himachal High Court which struck down a section of Himachal Freedom of Religion Act which made it mandatory for a person intending to convert to give prior notice of at least 30 days to the area District Magistrate. The court had ruled that it was violative of the provisions of the Constitution.

It is important to ponder over the purpose behind the anti-conversion Acts when there aren’t many cases reported in this regard. It is apparently meant to create a fear psychosis among the minority communities, especially the Christians. There had been umpteen instances of false cases thrusted on pastors, Nuns and church-run institutions, though nothing has been proved in courts. In Jharkhand, the saffron government wants the Tribals to join the Hindu-fold rather than embrace Christianity. It is reportedly a Sangh agenda to assimilate Tribals into Hinduism, by making conversion to other religions a criminal offence. At a time when many of the BJP-ruled States, including Jharkhand, are in the grip of ‘mob lynching’ of minorities and Dalits, what we need is an anti-lynching Act rather than anti-conversion Act.

(Published on 07th August 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 32)