New Delhi: The UP government Tuesday approved the Vidhi Virudh Dharmantaran Bill 2020 or the Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion Bill 2020 that seeks to bar “forceful religious conversions”, including for marriage. However, it is not the first state to bring a law to regulate conversions for marriage.
Uttarakhand, also led by a BJP administration under Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat, had brought a similar law in 2018.
Himachal Pradesh, another BJP-ruled state led by CM Jai Ram Thakur, followed suit last year by amending the state’s 2007 anti-conversion law. The law is more or less a reflection of the one in Uttarakhand.
The UP ordinance also appears to have adopted its basic structure from the Uttarakhand legislation.
The Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion Act 2018 prohibits conversion by misrepresentation, force, fraud, undue influence, coercion, allurement or marriage. It also introduces jail term for the offence, which has been categorised as non-bailable.
For proceedings to be launched under the law, a complaint will have to be made either by the aggrieved person themselves, their parents or their siblings. ThePrint takes a look at the law.
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The Uttarakhand law
On 18 April 2018, the then Uttarakhand Governor Krishna Kant Paul gave his assent to the Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion Act, just over a month after it was approved by the assembly.
Similar to the UP anti-conversion ordinance, any person contravening the law will be liable to imprisonment ranging from one to five years and a fine. If the conversion involves a minor, woman or member of the SC/STs, the punishment extends up to seven years and a fine.
Additionally, it states that any marriage done for the sole purpose of conversion will be declared void.
The burden to prove the conversion was not effected through misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means or by marriage lies on the person so converted or those who have facilitated it.
The Act lays out regulations for anyone who wishes to convert their religion. The person must approach the district magistrate concerned a month in advance and declare their willingness to change their religion. Failure to do so will result in an imprisonment that may extend up to a year and a fine.
Section 8 of the Act also requires the priest or person performing the conversion ceremony to give a month’s notice to the district magistrate. Not doing so could mean jail time of up to two years and a fine.
Once they have been approached with such a request, the law empowers district magistrates to conduct an inquiry through police to look into the purpose of the conversion and confirm if there is foul play.
On Tuesday, a two-judge bench of the Uttarakhand High Court comprising Justices Alok Kumar Verma and Sudhanshu Dhulia asked the district magistrate, Dehradun, to conduct an inquiry into instances of alleged non-compliance of Section 8 of the Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion Act.
The court was hearing petitions filed by two interfaith couples seeking protection. In one case, the petitioner had converted to Hinduism from Islam, and in the second one it was the other way round. The court gave the couples police protection.
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Anti-conversion laws in other states
While these three states have anti-conversion laws that specifically refer to marriage, there are others that don’t refer to nuptials-related conversions. These are Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, and Jharkhand. The Orissa Freedom of Religion Act dates back to 1967.
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