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Conversion tougher

india Updated: Jul 26, 2006 13:09 IST

THE MADHYA Pradesh Assembly passed without discussion the controversial bill to amend the State's Freedom of Religion Act, 1968, to make religious conversion tougher.

Soon after the House was adjourned amidst uproar, a Congress delegation led by Jamuna Devi marched to the Raj Bhavan to submit a memorandum to Governor Balram Jakhar requesting him to return the controversial bill. They claimed the bill was passed without discussion and requested the Governor to return it for a debate in the assembly.

The bill was passed by voice vote.  Speaker Ishwar Das Rohani rushed through the business even as Congress members stayed put in the well of the House raising slogans for “delaying decision” on a petition seeking disqualification of Rashtriya Samanata Dal member Harivallabh Shukla who contested the last Lok Sabha polls on a BJP ticket.

After notification, the bill provisions — section 5 (1) and (2)  – will replace the existing section 5 in the 1968 Act. The bill provides for making it mandatory for individuals intending to convert to a religion as also the priest conducting the ceremony to inform the district magistrate a month in advance the name and address of the converted along with the date and venue of the ceremony. 

Failing which, the priest will have to undergo imprisonment up to one year or pay a fine of Rs 5,000, or both. The penalty for an individual intending to convert is Rs 1,000.

While the state government claims the amendment in the Act will make it effective to check conversion, the Congress termed the move an "interference with religious freedom and human rights".

The amendment will give more powers to the police to verify the credentials of the priest or the organisations ahead of the conversion and that the ritual was not being done by force.

The BJP is “practising vote bank politics and wants to spread communal hatred”, Jamuna Devi said in the memorandum said, adding, “it aims to exploit the Christian community and tribals through the bill”. CPI(M) termed the Bill as an attempt by the BJP government to tame Christian missionaries and stop conversion of tribals.