The cabinet of Indian state Madhya Pradesh approved the Dharma Swatantrya (Religious Freedom) Bill 2020 on Saturday, just days ahead of the state’s winter assembly session. It is the second Indian state to pass a law against religious conversion only for the sake of marriage.
Indicating the intent behind the anti-conversion bill, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said: “Many incidents came to light where minor girls were converted, married and made to contest Panchayat polls.”
State Home Minister Narottam Mishra said that the bill includes a maximum punishment of five years in jail and a minimum fine of 25,000 rupees. It also places the burden of proof on the accused, including institutions and organizations associated with the accused. Where the person converted is a minor or belongs to a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe, the punishment can encompass up to 10 years of imprisonment and a maximum fine of 100,000 rupees.
Additionally, inter-faith couples seeking to solemnize their marriage will have to notify the same two months in advance, without which the marriage will be deemed null and void. Family courts in the state will also be empowered to declare null and void marriages for the purpose of religious conversion.
The state had declared its plans to bring such legislation in November, amidst a series of similar announcements by state governments across the country such as Haryana, Karnataka, Assam, and Uttar Pradesh. If the state legislature passes the new law, it will replace the existing MP Dharma Swatantrya Adhiniyam of 1968.
While laws against religious conversions are not new in India, the current legislations are contentious for targeting inter-faith marriages and terming it as “love jihad.” Presently, a public interest litigation challenging the constitutionality of the Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand laws is also pending before the Supreme Court.
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