Forced conversions: Not in Himachal



SHIMLA: Himachal Pradesh perhaps is among the few states in India where communal divide is either not too visible or has not had a bloody history. Ever since its inception, the state has hardly witnessed any incident of communal violence, which says a lot about the social, economic and political environment in the state. Religion, in fact is not an issue in the state, maybe because the state is predominantly Hindu or maybe because the local devtas, thousands of them, have never let polarisation happen. But the state government’s decision to enact a legislation to ban forced conversions has given Himachalis some fodder to chew on this front.

The Bill will be introduced in the coming winter session of the state Assembly to be held in Dharamsala from December 26. Called the Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Bill, 2006, it will impose a complete ban on conversion from one religion to another using force, inducement or some other fraudulent means. Those convicted under the law will be punished with two years in jail or a fine of Rs 25,000 or both.

Forced conversions have been a burning issue in some states for quite some time now. But, except for giving rise to another form of counter-evangelism, state government have not been able to do much. There had been few reports about forced conversions in Himachal recently but, as usual, there are no facts to substantiate the allegations. Is the government being foresighted or hyper-reactive, only time can tell.

Incidents of conversions have been seen mostly among Dalits and tribals but the phenomenon is also related to the financial condition of people converted. In Himachal, at least the tribal population has been living a self-sufficient life. So we can safely say that there is less threat of  forced conversions in the state, but to make the same sure, the government should make efforts to improve the economic condition of vulnerable masses, rather than wasting time on deciding what constitutes forceful conversion and what is right to propagate one’s religion.

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