Ahead of the three-day Assembly session that will begin on December 28, the Madhya Pradesh cabinet approved the draft of MP Freedom to Religion Bill, 2020 in a special meeting chaired by Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan on Saturday. Under the proposed law, forcing someone to convert their religion will attract up to 5 years of imprisonment and a minimum Rs 25,000 fine.
Chouhan said, “We won’t allow forced conversions in Madhya Pradesh. Under the new bill, anyone who does it will face a jail term up to 10 yrs and minimum Rs 50,000 fine. Many incidents came to light where minor girls were converted, married & made to contest Panchayat polls,”
Addressing the media, Home Minister Narottam Mishra said that in case of forced conversion of a minor, the jail term will be up to ten years. “Under the new MP Freedom of Religion Bill 2020, forced conversion of a minor, woman or a person from Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe, would draw a jail term up to 10 years with a minimum penalty of Rs 50,000,” Mishra said.
Mishra also said that in case of group conversions, the jail term will be up to 10 years with a fine of Rs 1 lakh. “MP’s law is the most stringent in the country,” Mishra added.
The new law will replace the existing MP Dharma Swatantrya Adhiniyam, 1968, law. The BJP government argues that the 1968 law is outdated and is being reworked in light of the experience of the past 50 years in the state regarding forced conversions, with improved definitions and higher penalties to prohibit such crimes, particularly forced religious conversions on the pretext of marriage.
However, unlike the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion Ordinance, under the MP law, a person converting of his own free will does not have to report it to the district magistrate. In case a person approaches a priest for such a conversion though, the priest concerned has to inform the district administration.
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