Following the steps of the Uttar Pradesh government, The Madhya Pradesh government approves a stringent law that will prohibit forced religious conversion. In a special cabinet session that was held on Tuesday, the MP Government approved this law under the Freedom To Religion Bill 2020.
Speaking to the reporters, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan said that the Freedom to Religion Bill 2020 will be enforced after it is cleared in a special session of the cabinet.
Let’s take a deep dive into the Freedom To Religion Bill 2020.
The bill aims to curb religious conversions that are made under allurement, force, marriage, threat, under the influence, coercion, or any “other fraudulent means”.
The bill stipulates jail terms from one to five years with a fine of Rs. 25,000. The exception being that the penalty in the case of a person who uses “misrepresentation” or “impersonation” will be higher, with a jail term of 3-10 years and a fine of Rs. 50,000.
On the other hand, the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religious Ordinance, which was passed in 2020, states that conversion using the means mentioned above, including impersonation and misrepresentation demands a jail term of one to five years with a fine of Rs. 15,000.
Other features of the MP’s Freedom To Religion Bill 2020 include that cases such as these are only to be dealt with by police personnel with the rank of sub-inspector and above. Additionally, only the parents and siblings of the person in question can file a complaint directly. In the case of a guardian or custodian seeking to file a complaint, they would need to approach Sessions Court that is authorized to deal in these matters and eventually get a court order.
One of the differences between the MP’s Freedom To Religion Bill 2020 and Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religious Ordinance is that in MP’s new legislation, the rights to the property to the children in the marriage under question and a provision for maintenance to the women(the issue of maintenance will be dealt with as per Section 125) is added.
While the bills of both states have certain differences in the way it will handle certain matters, in both states a marriage will be declared null and void by family courts if the marriage is proved to be undertaken only for the purpose of religious conversion.
Similarly, both the legislation of MP and UP have three to five years of prison terms for religious organizations or a single individual caught carrying out mass conversions. But the difference lies in the penalty wherein in MP, the penalty is Rs. 1 Lakh and in UP the penalty is slated to be Rs. 50,000.
When it comes to returning to one’s original religion- as in the religion a person was born into or a religion that was practiced by the person in question’s father-will not be considered a conversion.
These laws are stringent on all stakeholders in the process of religious conversion. Priests who are to carry out conversion are mandated to inform the district administration about 60 days prior to the date of a scheduled conversion, failing which the priest or the facilitator of the conversion will face jail time. But here again, the MP Bill has set down a higher price of penalty (Rs. 50,000 and 3-5 years of jail term) compared to that of UP (Rs. 25,000 as a penalty and one to five years of jail term)
Talking about the conversion of a minor, or an individual belonging to the Scheduled Caste or Schedule Tribe, both the UP law and the MP law has stipulated a jail term of 2 to 10 years. While the jail term remains the same in both the states’ laws, the penalty is different. The MP legislation has stipulated a penalty fee of Rs. 50,000 and the UP legislation has stipulated a fee of Rs. 25,000.
With such stringent laws that are being put into place in states like Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, forced conversion may get curbed for good.