MP Cabinet passes anti-conversion bill with up to 10-year imprisonment
The Madhya Pradesh Cabinet on Saturday approved the Dharma Swatantrya (Religious Freedom) Bill, 2020 that aims to curb forced religious conversions for inter-faith marriages in the state. Once enforced, it will include a maximum punishment of up to 10 years' imprisonment and a penalty of up to Rs. 1 lakh for forced religious conversions through marriage or by any other fraudulent means. Here's more.
Bill tabled at Cabinet meeting chaired by CM Chouhan
The Bill was tabled at a state Cabinet meeting chaired by MP CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan ahead of the three-day Legislative Assembly session scheduled to be held from December 28. It will now be presented in the state Assembly. Madhya Pradesh's Home Minister Narottam Mishra stated, "This Bill will replace the Religious Freedom Act of 1968 (after the approval by the state Assembly)."
'Will not allow forced conversions in Madhya Pradesh': CM
"We will not allow forced conversions in Madhya Pradesh. Many incidents have come to light where minor girls were converted, married, and made to contest panchayat polls," CM Chouhan stated. "Only recently did we bring back underage girls from various places. We won't allow this to happen to innocent girls from Madhya Pradesh," the Chief Minister added.
Upto 10 years' imprisonment, maximum fine of Rs. 1 lakh
Under this Bill, those who force religious conversion on someone will attract a jail term of 1-5 years and a minimum penalty of Rs. 25,000, said Mishra. However, if the conversion is forced on an underage person or someone belonging to a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe, then the guilty would attract 2-10 years of imprisonment with a maximum fine of Rs. 1 lakh.
Those wishing to change religion must notify two months ahead
Mishra also stated that once enforced, this Bill will be India's most stringent law against forced religious conversions through allurement, threat, or any other fraudulent means. Under this, if someone seeks to change their religion, they will be required to notify the same at least two months in advance. If they fail to do so, their marriage will be considered null and void.
Similar anti-conversion law enforced in Uttar Pradesh
The Madhya Pradesh Cabinet's approval of the Bill comes barely a month after a similar anti-conversion law was passed by CM Yogi Adityanath-led BJP government in Uttar Pradesh. However, after it was enforced, numerous cases of alleged abuse of the law also reportedly came to light. Many legal experts, including retired judges, said that the UP law was unsustainable and should be nullified.