ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Voiceless in Jharkhand

Freedom of Religion Act, 2017

The Jharkhand Freedom of Religion Act, 2017 is the latest draconian act against tribes who are anyway battling dispossession of their land in the name of development. The Fifth Schedule of the Constitution provides for a number of measures to protect their interests. Yet, in the enactment of the law on freedom of religion in a number of states with sizeable tribal populations, their voice is missing.

The Jharkhand assembly has passed the Freedom of Religion Bill, 2017 and it has received the governor’s assent Jharkhand is now the latest entry into the list of states with the Freedom of Religion Act. Odisha was the first to introduce the Freedom of Religion Act in 1967. Madhya Pradesh soon followed and passed a similar act in 1968. Ten years later, in 1978 Arunachal Pradesh passed such an act. Tamil Nadu passed an anti-conversion act with a different nomenclature in 2002. It was called the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Forcible Conversion of Religion Act. However, it was repealed in 2004. Gujarat’s Freedom of Religion Act was passed in 2003; Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh too followed suit in 2006 with a similar nomenclature. In most states, the acts have gone through amendments either due to cases filed in courts or objections raised by the respective governors of the state. Interestingly, all the freedom of religion acts, with the exception of the one passed by Arunachal Pradesh have been enacted in states with the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution. Since this schedule is meant for tribes, it may fairly be assumed that the freedom of religion acts primarily target the tribal population of the respective states.

Aunachal Pradesh is the only state in the North East with a Freedom of Religion Act. However, the act is not in operation, as the rules required for its implementation have not been framed. That the rules have not been framed even after over three decades of the enactment is worth questioning. My guess is Arunachal Pradesh may have felt constrained to take the act forward as its implementation would have adversely affected the social fabric of the kinship-based tribal society in the state. Unlike other states, it is a state where tribals govern themselves and are not governed by others.

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Updated On : 9th Oct, 2017
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