The Uttar Pradesh State Law Commission, in a 268-page report along with Draft ‘Uttar Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2019’, has proposed that “Conversion done for sole purpose of marriage to be declared null and void”. The panel has put forward the proposal after studying cases of religious conversion that came up in media reports and records of legislature since 1954.
The draft law — which was submitted to Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath along with a letter by UP State Law Commission chairman A N Mittal — cites the purpose of the proposed law as “to provide freedom of religion by prohibition of conversion from one religion to another by misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means or by marriage”.
It suggests declaring such conversion done for the purpose of marriage as “null and void”. In section 6, the draft Act proposes, “Any conversion, which was done for the sole purpose of marriage by the man of one religion with the woman of another religion by converting himself before or after the marriage or by converting the woman before or after marriage may be declared null and void by family court”. The draft further proposes that in case where a family court is not established, the court having jurisdiction to try such case on a petition presented by either party against the other party of the marriage may declare the same.
Section 7 of the draft proposes that every petition for declaring such conversion as null and void shall be presented to the family court or the court having jurisdiction where family court is not established.
Making the conversion norms strict, the draft proposes “declaration before conversion of religion” at least one month in advance along with a “pre-report” about “Purification Sanskar”.
“One, who desires to convert his religion, shall give a declaration in the form prescribed in schedule 1 at least one month in advance, to the district Magistrate”, proposes the draft. In the declaration, the person desiring to convert would have to give in writing that he wishes to convert his religion on his own and at his “free consent” and without any force, coercion, undue influence or allurement. Even the priest performing “purification sanskar” or conversion ceremony would be required to give one month notice in advance about where such a ceremony would be performed.
Thereafter, as per the draft law, the district magistrate would get an inquiry conducted through police “with regard to the real intention, purpose and cause of that proposed religion conversion”. And if any contravention is found during this inquiry, the conversion can be declared “illegal and void”. If the declaration of the priest is found in contravention, then he shall also be liable for imprisonment from six months to two years.
While the draft prohibits conversion by force or fraudulent means, it proposes that one converting back to the “immediate previous religion” shall “not be deemed to be a conversion” under the proposed law.
Defining punishment for contravention of the prohibition on conversion by force, the draft suggest up to five years of imprisonment along with fine and minimum one year’s imprisonment. However, in case the victim is a minor, a woman or a person belonging to Scheduled Caste or Scheduled tribe, the draft law proposes punishment of imprisonment of minimum two years extending up to seven years.
After conversion, the converted person would be required to give another declaration within a month giving several details. While the district magistrate would be required to exhibit a copy of this declaration in his office, the converted person would be expected to appear before the DM within 21 days to personally identify himself and confirm the content of the declaration. Again, if any contravention is found in this declaration, then the draft proposes that it “shall have the effect of rendering the said conversion illegal and void”.
Asked about the draft Act, Sapna Tripathi, secretary of the State Law Commission, told The Indian Express that it took the panel four months of study before finalising the draft and the report. “The study started soon after submitting the report on lynching. We studied such law imposed by other states like Madhya Pradesh, where it was introduced in 1967, Odisha, Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, etc, media reports of cases of conversion, petitions filed in courts as well as records of state legislature dating back to 1954, when the law on conversion was first demanded.”
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