The provision of alimony or alimony to women compelled to marry for the purpose of religious conversion and a provision to annul such marriages are some of the clauses that form part of the Madhya Pradesh Religious Freedom Act, 2020 will be discussed in a special Cabinet meeting on Saturday before it will take place in the upcoming three-day winter meeting starting December 28th.
Once passed by the Assembly, the new law will replace the existing 1968 law of MP Dharma Swatantrya Adhiniyam. The BJP government argues that the 1968 law is out of date and will be revised in light of the past 50 years of experience in the state regarding forced conversions, with improved definitions and higher penalties to prohibit such crimes, particularly forced religious conversions under the Pretext for marriage.
Under the new bill, forced conversions would result in a minimum of five years’ imprisonment up to life imprisonment if the converted person is a minor or from a planned caste or tribe, and three years with a minimum sentence of Rs 50,000 otherwise.
In contrast to the Uttar Pradesh prohibition of the illegal religious conversion ordinance, a person who converts of free will does not have to report this to the district judge under the MP law. If a person turns to a priest for such conversion, the priest concerned must inform the county council.
Medical Education Minister Vishwas Sarang had called for frequent offenders to receive higher sentences in such cases, but officials said it could be the jurisdiction of the courts.
Under the new MP Act, a state family court will have the power to annul marriages entered into for the purpose of religious conversion. In such cases, maintenance would be granted in accordance with Section 125 CrPC. Interior Minister Narottam Mishra had stated in his interactions with media representatives that they would also examine the possibility of attaching the defendant’s property.
The draft was due to be discussed at a cabinet meeting on December 22nd, but was postponed to a special meeting on December 26th after Prime Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said some proposals were awaited.