Bhopal: Madhya Pradesh governor Anandiben Patel signed off on Thursday on an ordinance to regulate inter-faith marriages that prescribes a punishment of two to 10 years in prison and a fine of Rs.50,000 for forcing women to convert their religion.
An official in Raj Bhavan said the ordinance targets those who force “women, minors, and people from Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes to undergo religious conversion.”. Reconversion to one’s original religion will not be considered a crime, the official said, requesting anonymity..
“The governor, who is in Lucknow at present ,has signed the drafts of all the ordinances which were approved by the state cabinet and sent to the governor for her consent and promulgation on December 29, 2020. There were about 12 such ordinances which couldn’t be tabled in the state assembly’s winter session, which was postponed due to the Covid situation,” the official added.
One of the ordinances prescribes punishment of those guilty of adulteration of food and drugs with up to a life term in prison.
Madhya Pradesh follows Uttar Pradesh in introducing an ordinance cracking down on interfaith relationships that allegedly use marriage as a lure to force Hindu women to convert to Islam in a practice that some groups term “love jihad,” but one that the courts and the Union government do not officially recognise . The stringent laws do not use the words “love jihad”, and the UP law has already been challenged in the Supreme Court.
The ordinance to regulate religious conversion is called the Madhya Pradesh Dharmik Swatantrata (Freedom of Religion) Ordinance, 2020. It will replace the 1968 Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act and prohibit conversion and attempted conversion through “misrepresentation, allurement, threat, force, undue influence, coercion, marriage and any fraudulent means.”
“Conspiracy and abetment to religious conversion have been prohibited too in the ordinance”, states the ordinance’s draft.
Inter-faith marriages solemnised by way of misrepresentation, allurement, threat, coercion, undue influence and fraud will be deemed null and void. Parental property rights will be given to children born out of such marriages and the man will have to pay a maintenance allowance to the woman and children.
In cases of religious conversion in violation of the provisions involving women, minors, and women from scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, the prescribed punishment is two to 10 years in jail a minimum fine of Rs 50,000. In other cases of religious conversion, it prescribes a minimum jail term of one year and a maximum of five years. and fine of Rs. 25,000 .
In cases of religious conversion by way of impersonation or misrepresentation, the punishment will be three to 10 yeas in jail and fine of Rs 50,000.
A mass religious conversion (conversion of two or more persons at the same time) in violation of the ordinance will invite a jail term of at least five years that can be extended to 10 years. Repeat offences will attract a jail term of five to 10 years.
“The crimes registered under the ordinance are cognisable and non-bailable. A sessions court is authorised to hear the case. Investigation into the crime can’t be done by a police officer lower to the rank of a police sub-inspector. The onus of proof will lie on the accused”, the draft says.
A person embracing another religion voluntarily and the priest (dharmik vyakti) getting the conversion done will have to inform the district magistrate at least 60 days prior to the scheduled date of conversion. Violation of this provision will attract a sentence of three to five years in prison and a minimum fine of Rs 50,000.