Lucknow: Reports over the proposed anti-conversion law, as suggested by the State Law Commission in Uttar Pradesh, have triggered panic among some communities and human rights activists.
"The Constitution guarantees right to freedom of religion, and the proposed law is against the basic principles of the same. The proposed law is an instrument to silence Dalits, the marginalized and religious minorities," said Lenin Raghuvanshi, a human rights activist and director of People's Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR), a Varanasi-based NGO that helps marginalized sections of society.
Jesuit Father Lourduraj Ignasimuthu, a priest, said: "Minorities should be wary of this and be cautious about their activities concerning religion. The BJP is just playing to Hindutva ideology."
He said the proposed anti-conversion bill in Uttar Pradesh focuses on minorities, especially Christians, Catholics, and Muslims. This bill is to appease hardliners in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)," he said.
In Uttar Pradesh, Christians are about .18 per cent of the population whereas they are 2.3 per cent of the country's population.
According to commission chief, Justice Aditya Nath Mittal, "Existing legal provisions are not enough to check religious conversion. A new law is needed on this serious matter."
Under the proposed new state law, if a person wants to change religion, one needs prior permission of a government official. The proposed law also prohibits religious conversion by force, allurement or deceit.
Penalties for breaching the laws would range from jail terms of one to three years or fines from Rs 5,000 to Rs 50,000.
A child convert belonging to a socially and economically backward community - namely a low caste or tribal group - could face a stiffer punishment of being jailed for seven years.
Human rights activist John Dayal was quoted as having said, "There is no doubt that though the pretence is to contain the Muslim population, the real target is to stop Christianity in its tracks. 'Love jihad' or Muslim boys marrying Hindu girls is not so much an issue as the voluntary conversion of Dalits and Other Backward Classes (OBCs) to Christianity.
According to Dayal, Uttar Pradesh has several areas where people call themselves 'bhaktas' or followers of Christ without officially having been baptized as Christians.
Dalits and OBCs are educationally and socially disadvantaged groups who remain at the bottom of society. They now have a sizeable population.