MP's Freedom of Religion Bill against `fraudulent' conversions gets state cabinet's nod

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(Eds: adding details) Bhopal, Dec 26 (PTI) `The Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Bill, 2020' which provides for up to 10 years in jail for conversion 'through marriage or by any other fraudulent means' got the state cabinet's approval on Saturday, Home Minister Narottam Mishra said.

The bill in some ways is similar to the Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020, notified by the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh last month, which too provides for maximum punishment of 10 years for fraudulent conversions including those for the sake of marriage.

Mishra claimed that once enacted, the law in MP will be the most stringent in the country.

Offenses under the proposed law will be cognizable and non-bailable. The bill, which seeks to replace the Religious Freedom Act of 1968, will be tabled in the Madhya Pradesh Assembly, Mishra said.

'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,' he said.

In another similarity to the Uttar Pradesh anti- conversion ordinance, any marriage solemnized in violation of the proposed law will be considered null and void.

Those willing to convert will need to apply to the district administration 60 days in advance. The religious leaders facilitating the conversion wil also have to inform about it 60 days in advance.

Violation of these provisions would attract jail term of three to five years and fine of Rs 50,000, the minister said.

In cases of religious conversion of members of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and minors, a provision has been made for imprisonment of two to ten years in jail and Rs 50,000 fine, he said.

There is provision of three to ten years of imprisonment and fine of Rs 50,000 in cases of marriage carried out by hiding religion, misrepresentation or impersonation, he said.

In case of mass conversions (of two or more persons), a provision of five to ten years of imprisonment and minimum fine of Rs one lakh has been made, Mishra said.

Repeat offenders will face five to ten years of imprisonment, Mishra said, adding that the registration of any organization involved in such violation would be canceled.

Religious conversion in violation of this law would be considered null and void, he said.

Parents, legal guardian or custodian and brothers and sisters of the converted person can lodge a complaint.

Offenses 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, the minister said.

Under the UP ordinance too, onus of proving that conversion has been voluntary lies on the accused and the person who has been converted.

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, Mishra said.

In UP, a PIL has been filed in the Allahabad High Court challenging the ordiance, contending that it impinges upon the fundamental right to choice and right to change of faith. PTI ADU NP KRK KRK