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The Himachal Pradesh Legislative Assembly in northern India has passed a new anti-conversion law that Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) says contradicts the country’s Constitution.  The Bill, extends a law that was introduced in 2006 which criminalised conversion by “fraud,” “force” and “inducement,” by adding “coercion” to its terms.  Inducement has also been redefined under the new bill as the “offer of any temptation in the form of any gift or gratification or material benefit, either in cash or kind or employment, free education in reputed school run by any religious body, easy money, better lifestyle, divine pleasure or otherwise.”

CSW have raised concerns over the wording of the amended terms, saying their loose definition could leave them open to misuse.  Anyone found attempting to convert a person from one religion to another in the Himalayan region could face up to seven years in prison, compared to three years under the old law.  The proposed law would also not recognise the marriage of two people from previously different religions, where a conversion has taken place either before or after their wedding day. CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas has spoken out against the new legislation.

Thomas said: “This Bill is a clear expression of the state’s intention to restrict the right to freedom of religion or belief.  As a multi-ethnic nation made up of diverse religious groups, India must respect the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion for all people. “Citizens must be free from state propagated narratives about the individual’s right to choose.  “We urge the state legislators to reconsider this heavy-handed move which dishonours India’s foundational Constitution.”  Anti-conversion laws, known as ‘Freedom of Religion Acts’ are currently enforced in seven states in India.  These laws fail to protect a person’s right to practice, profess and communicate their faith.

Source: Premier News Service