BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh became the latest state after Uttar Pradesh to pass an ordinance prohibiting forced religious conversion to check what it calls “love jihad”. Besides, two other BJP states — Haryana and Karnataka — are also mulling laws designed to prevent “forcible conversions” through marriage. The BJP government in Himachal Pradesh also brought into force a law this month requiring a person to give prior notice to authorities for converting to another religion and outlawing conversions solely for marriage.
Odisha was the first state that enacted an anti-conversion law — the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act 1967, passed in 1968. Gujarat passed its own version of the law in 2003, prohibiting conversions from one religion to another by the use of “force, allurement, or fraudulent means”. In 2006, Rajasthan passed a similar Bill but the Governor did not give assent to it because of complaints from minority communities. In the same year, the Jayalalitha-led government in Tamil Nadu repealed the anti-conversion legislation passed in 2002 due to protests by Christian minorities.
Here is what the ‘love jihad’ legislations of different states say:
A month since the UP Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020, came into effect on November 28, records show that the UP Police has registered 14 cases and made 51 arrests, of whom 49 are in jail.
The law provides for a jail term of up to 10 years for any violations. Under the law, which deals with different categories of offences, a marriage will be declared “null and void” if the conversion of a woman is solely for that purpose. In case, such conversion is of a minor, a woman from the Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe, then those found guilty would have to face a jail term from three to 10 years, with a minimum fine of Rs 25,000.
On the other hand, if such conversion is found at the mass level, then those guilty would face jail term from three to 10 years, with a minimum fine of Rs 50,000. Under the new law, it would be the responsibility of the one going for the religious conversion to prove that it is not taking place forcefully or with any fraudulent means. In case, any violation is found under this provision, then one faces a jail term from 6 months to 3 years and fine of minimum Rs 10,000.
The Madhya Pradesh Freedom to Religion Bill 2020 stipulates jail terms of one to five years, with a fine of Rs 25,000, in such cases. The penalty in case of a person using “misrepresentation” or “impersonation” for religious conversion will be higher, including a jail term of 3-10 years and a fine of Rs 50,000.
In a significant departure from the UP ordinance though on registration of FIRs in such cases, the MP Bill says these can be dealt with only by police personnel not less than the rank of a sub-inspector, and that solely parents and siblings of the affected individual can file a complaint directly. In case a guardian or a custodian wants to register an offence, they must approach a Sessions Court authorised to deal in these matters and get a court order.
The other big departure between the MP Bill and UP law is the provision for maintenance to women and rights to the property to children in the marriage under question in the legislation planned by the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government. The matter of maintenance will be dealt with as per Section 125 of the CrPC.
While both UP law and MP Bill envisage a jail term of two to ten years in case a person being converted is a minor, or belongs to the Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe, the MP legislation talks of a penalty of Rs 50,000 against Rs 25,000 in UP.
Both the legislations talk of three to five years of prison terms for religious organisations or individuals seen as carrying out mass conversions, but again the penalty in MP is higher (Rs 1 lakh) than UP (Rs 50,000).
In both states, organisations or priests carrying out conversions have to inform the district administration about 60 days before the date of conversion, failing which the organisation can have its registration cancelled and the priest or facilitator face a jail term.
Earlier this month, Himachal Pradesh brought into force a law requiring a person to give prior notice to authorities for converting to another religion and outlawing conversions solely for marriage. The Himachal Pradesh assembly passed the Freedom of Religion Bill, 2019, last year.
As per the Act, anyone who wishes to convert to any other religion will give a declaration to the district authorities at least one month in advance, specifying that one is doing so as per his/her “own volition or free consent”. In fact, even the religious priest who performs the conversion ceremony has to inform the authorities at least one month in advance.
The Act says that the burden of proof as to whether a religious conversion was not effected through force or fraud lies on the person so converted, or the person who has facilitated the conversion.
All offences under the Act are cognizable and non-bailable. The violator can be punished with a prison term ranging from one to five years, along with a fine. In case the victim is a minor, woman or member of a Scheduled Caste or Tribe, the imprisonment may extend upto seven years. Failure to declare the conversion in advance can also result in an imprisonment of upto two years.
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