The Uttar Pradesh Cabinet on Tuesday cleared a draft ordinance to check “unlawful religious conversions” and “inter-faith marriages with the sole intention of changing a girl’s religion”, with provision for jail term of up to 10 years.
According to the “Uttar Pradesh Vidhi Virudh Dharma Samparivartan Pratishedh Adyadesh 2020” (prohibition of unlawful religious conversion), a marriage will be declared “shunya” (null and void) if the “sole intention” was to “change a girl’s religion”.
“Those getting the conversion done in violation of the provisions of the proposed law would have to face jail term of up to 10 years,” said a government statement. If it is found that the conversion is done “forcibly, through atrocity or cheating”, the offence will be non-bailable.
“The Cabinet has taken a big decision… it was necessary for maintaining normal law and order in the state and to ensure justice for women, especially those from the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes,” said Uttar Pradesh Cabinet Minister Sidharth Nath Singh, who is also the government spokesperson.
“More than 100 cases of forcible conversions have come to light. The way in which religious conversions are done using deceit, lies, force and dishonesty is heart wrenching, and it was necessary to have a law in this regard,” he said.
Singh said the proposed law has provision for jail term of 1 to 5 years, and a minimum fine of Rs 15,000. However, in case the woman is from the Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe or a minor, the person can be jailed for 3 to 10 years, with a minimum fine of Rs 25,000.
In case of mass conversions done forcibly or through cheating, the jail term would range from 3 to 10 years, with a minimum fine of Rs 50,000.
“If someone wants to convert their religion after marriage, an application will have to be submitted to the district magistrate two months in advance. The conversion can take place if permission is granted,” said Singh.
Last year, the UP State Law Commission had submitted a report on the subject to Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, along with a draft ‘Uttar Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2019’, proposing that “conversion done for sole purpose of marriage to be declared null and void”.
The process to bring a law was speeded up after Adityanath recently said at a public meeting in Jaunpur that those waging “love jihad” should either mend their ways or be prepared for their final journey – “Ram naam satya hai ki yatra nikalne wali hai”.
The BJP-ruled states of Haryana and Madhya Pradesh have also sought to bring a law to check what they say is “love jihad”. Last week, at least five Opposition-ruled states condemned the move as an encroachment on personal liberty, and an attempt to create a communal divide in the country.