The cabinet of Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan on Saturday approved the MP Freedom of Religion Bill, 2020. The move comes before a three-day session of the state Assembly that will start from Monday. The bill is likely to be taken up in the session.
The bill specifies a minimum fine of Rs 25,000 and prison term up to 10 years for those engaging in forcible religious conversion.
Madhya Pradesh Home Minister Narottam Mishra told reporters the punishment for those targeting vulnerable sections would be more severe. In case of forcible conversion of a minor, the jail term would be between 2 and 10 years. Mishra was quoted by The Indian Express as saying, "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 minimum jail term of 2-10 years with a minimum penalty of Rs 50,000."
Under the new Madhya Pradesh bill, "a family court in the state will be empowered to declare marriages conducted for the purpose of religious conversion null and void. The alimony in such cases would be granted as per Section 125 of the CrPC," The Indian Express reported.
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Uttar Pradesh had passed a similar law last month to curb what it termed were forcible conversions. The new MP bill differs from the UP legislation as "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," The Indian Express reported.
BJP-ruled states such as Karnataka, Assam and Haryana have also announced plans to formulate laws to curb instances of what they term as ‘love jihad’ or forcible conversion.