The Ministry of Home Affairs of Madhya Pradesh on Saturday (January 9) notified the MP Freedom of Religion Ordinance, 2020, in the Madhya Pradesh Gazette, thus bringing the law into effect.
With this move, the Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in the state has tightened its legal grip against the alleged incidents of 'love jihad' that the saffron camp has been especially vocally about in the recent months.
News agency ANI shared on Twitter a copy of the Madhya Pradesh Ordinance, which reads:
“An Ordinance to provide freedom of religion by prohibiting conversion from one religion to another by misrepresentation, allurement, use of threat or force, undue influence, coercion, marriage or any fraudulent means and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto. [sic]”
The ordinance further notes that the state legislature is not in session, and therefore the Governor of Madhya Pradesh, Anandiben Patel, is satisfied that "circumstances exist which render it necessary to take immediate action."
Ordinance route, similar to Uttar Pradesh
On December 29 last year, the Madhya Pradesh cabinet, in a special meeting, gave the nod to the ordinance on the bill against religious conversion through fraudulent means, including those for the sake of marriage, that stipulates a jail term of up to 10 years for violators.
The state government took the ordinance route as the bill couldn't be tabled in the winter session of the state Assembly, as the session was deferred due to the COVID-19 situation.
The BJP government in Uttar Pradesh had also taken the ordinance route to notify a similar law.
The Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Bill, 2020, also has a provision to impose fine of Rs 1 lakh for "conversion through marriage or by any other forceful means".
Most 'stringent law' in the country: MP Home Minister
State home minister Narottam Mishra had earlier said the proposed law "will deal with those who marry our daughters by converting them by luring, influencing, threatening, or coercing".
Mishra had recently claimed that once enacted, the law in MP will be the most stringent in the country.
Offenses under the law are cognizable and non-bailable. The bill seeks to replace the Religious Freedom Act of 1968, by prohibiting 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. Any marriage solemnised 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, as per the provisions of the legislation.
Religious leaders facilitating the conversion will also have to inform about it 60 days in advance.
Violation of these provisions would attract a jail term of three to five years and a fine of Rs 50,000.
In cases involving religious conversion of members of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and minors, a provision has been made for imprisonment of two to 10 years and Rs 50,000 fine for violators.
There is a provision of three to 10 years of imprisonment and a fine of Rs 50,000 in cases of marriage carried out by "hiding religion, misrepresentation or impersonation", according to the bill.
In case of mass conversions (of two or more persons), a provision of five to 10 years of imprisonment and minimum fine of Rs one lakh has been made for offenders in the bill.
The MP bill in some ways is similar to the Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020, notified by the Uttar Pradesh government last month, which too provides for maximum punishment of 10 years for fraudulent conversions including those for the sake of marriage.