The Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Bill, 2020, which provides for a prison term of up to 10 years and a fine of ₹1 lakh for conversion through “marriage or by any other fraudulent means” got the State Cabinet’s approval.
The Bill, in some ways, is similar to the Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020, notified by the Uttar Pradesh last month, which too provides for a maximum punishment of 10 years’ imprisonment for “fraudulent conversions”, even for the sake of marriage.
During British Raj, some of the Indian princely states such as Kota, Patna, Surguja, Udaipur and Kalahandi passed laws against religious conversions in an attempt to preserve Hindu religious identity in the face of British missionaries.
Stringent laws for mass conversions:
- In cases of religious conversion of members of the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes and minors, a provision has been made for imprisonment of two to 10 years and ₹50,000 fine, he said.
- There is provision of three to 10 years of imprisonment and fine of ₹50,000 in cases of marriage carried out by hiding religion, misrepresentation or impersonation.
- In case of mass conversions (of two or more persons), a provision of five to 10 years of imprisonment and a minimum fine of ₹1 lakh has been made.
- Repeat offenders would face five to 10 years of imprisonment, he said, adding that the registration of any organisation involved in such violation would be cancelled.
- Religious conversion in violation of this law would be considered null and void.
- Parents, legal guardian or custodian and brothers and sisters of the converted person can lodge a complaint.
- Offences would be investigated by an officer not lower than sub-inspector’s rank, and it would be the responsibility of the accused to prove his innocence.
- A child born to the victim women will be entitled to get maintenance under the proposed law. Such children would be entitled to inherit the father’s properties too.
Definitions mentioned in convesion bill:
- i) Allurement-Temptation in the form of a gift, gratification, easy money or material benefit, employment, free education in any reputed school run by any religious body, better lifestyle, divine displeasure and so on.
- ii) Coercion- To compel an individual to act against his/her will, using psychological pressure or physical force causing bodily injury or threat.
iii) Conversion- To renounce one’s own religion to adopt another religion.
- iv) Force-To threat someone in any way.
- v) Fraudulent means-Impersonation of any kind– false name, religion, surname and so on.
- vi) Mass conversion-Conversion of two or more people.
vii) Minor- A person below 18 years of age.
viii) Religion- Any organised way of worship pattern, faith, belief, lifestyle prevailing in any part of India and defined under any law or custom for the time being in force.
- ix) Religion convertor-Person of any religion who performs any act of conversion from one religion to another such as Father, Maulvi, Karmkandi, etc.
- X) Undue influence- Unconscientious use of power or influence by one person over another to persuade the other to act in accordance with the will of the person exercising such influence.
- xi) Unlawful conversion- Conversion which is not in accordance with law of the land.
Features of the New Legislation by MP: The Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Bill, 2020:
- The law in Madhya Pradesh would be the most stringent in the country.
- Offences under the proposed law would be cognisable and non-bailable. The Bill, which seeks to replace the Religious Freedom Act of 1968, would be tabled in the Assembly.
- The new legislation will prohibit religious conversion or such efforts by misrepresentation, allurement, force, undue influence, coercion, marriage or any other fraudulent means.
- Abetment and conspiracy for religious conversion will also be prohibited under it.
- Any marriage solemnised in violation of the proposed law would be considered null and void.
- Those willing to convert would need to apply to the district administration 60 days in advance.
- The religious leaders facilitating the conversion would also have to inform about it 60 days in advance.
- Violation of these provisions would attract a jail term of three to five years and a fine of ₹50,000.
States opting for laws on freedom of religion for marriage (‘love jihad’):
Recently, the State governments of U.P. Haryana and Karnataka announced intentions to enact such laws and planning a law that would invite five years’ imprisonment for ‘love jihad’.
The Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion Law, 2020 is a law enacted by the Government of Uttar Pradesh, India to prohibit unlawful conversion from one religion to another by misinterpretation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means or by marriage.
Article 25: Freedom of Conscience and Free Profession, Practice and Propagation of Religion:
Article 25 says that all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess, practice and propagate religion.
- Freedom of conscience: Inner freedom of an individual to mould his relation with God or Creatures in whatever way he desires.
- Right to Profess: Declaration of one’s religious beliefs and faith openly and freely.
- Right to Practice: Performance of religious worship, rituals, ceremonies and exhibition of beliefs and ideas.
- Right to Propagate: Transmission and dissemination of one’s religious beliefs to others or exposition of the tenets of one’s religion.
Supreme Court on Marriage and Conversion:
- The Apex Court of India in its several judgements has held that faith, the state and the courts have no jurisdiction over an adult’s absolute right to choose a life partner.
- Intimacies of marriage lie within a core zone of privacy, which is inviolable and the choice of a life partner, whether by marriage or outside it, is part of an individual’s ‘personhood and identity’.
- India is a ‘free and democratic country’ and any interference by the State in an adult’s right to love and marry has a ‘chilling effect’ on freedoms.
- The absolute right of an individual to choose a life partner is not in the least affected by matters of faith.
The essence of secularism lies in accommodation of varied social groups and overcome tendencies that destructs the social fabric of the any society.
In India where differences exists in terms of different religions and cultures secularism plays a crucial role.
It is evident that Indian secularism since ancient India embraced many religions, sects, communities showing tolerance and true sense of accommodation, leading to a tolerant nation with social cohesion.