The state of Madhya Pradesh, governed by the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP), has passed the Madhya Pradesh Dharm Swatantra Adhyadesh 2020 (Freedom of Religion, 2020) Ordinance which punishes the violators with a jail term of up to 10 years and fines up to Rs 1 lakh. A similar ordinance has been passed in the BJP administered state of Uttar Pradesh (UP) and the spirit behind the law is termed as Love Jihad by the Hindu nationalists and Right-Wing politicians. It is not a legally recognised term in India. Love Jihad is generally referred to Muslim men allegedly luring Hindu women into marriage and then converting them. The bill also satisfies another right-wing political and Hindu nationalist agenda of checking the alleged monetary induced conversions by the Christians and Muslims.
“Several ordinances including Freedom of Religion Ordinance were approved in the virtual cabinet meeting headed by Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan on Tuesday,” said the state Home Minister Narottam Mishra. The Freedom of Religion, 2020, bill has been forwarded to the Governor Anandiben Patel, who is also the governor for the state of Uttar Pradesh.
The provisions of the bill are not widely known but few of the details are available. One of the key points of the bill is to target religious conversion through dishonest means including those for the sake of marriage. Any form of abetment and conspiracy regarding religious conversion is prohibited under the law. Any marriage solemnised in violation of the proposed law will be considered null and void. Under this bill, the re-conversion to the ancestral religion is not treated as conversion. The definition of the ancestral religion is the religion of the father of the person at the time of his birth. The bill makes it mandatory to apply to the district administration 60 days in advance before any person wants to convert to other religion. The legislation will replace the 1968 Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act. The bill also targets violators who convert women, minors, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes by force.
The Madhya Pradesh ordinance is not uniform with the Uttar Pradesh ordinance. As per Home minister Misra, the UP ordinance does not provide for parental property rights to children of interfaith marriage couples and monthly maintenance. In MP, the permission for interfaith marriage has to be obtained by the district judge or a fine of Rs 50,000 is levied in case of violation. In UP the fine is Rs 25,000.
About 91% of the citizens of Madhya Pradesh follow the Hindu religion. The percentage of citizens following Islam in the state is approximately 6.5 %. The state has a population of around 8.5 crores or 85 million.
The Love Jihad phenomenon is also a concern for Christians from the state of Kerala. The Syro Malabar Church has stated that the Christian women are being targeted for recruitment to the terrorist outfit Islamic State. The State’s Christian association Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council has claimed 4000 cases of Love Jihad between 2015 to 2012.
The states of Haryana and Karnataka, which are governed by the BJP, are also mulling similar Freedom of Religion laws. The Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa has already announced the introduction of such a law in the next Assembly Session.
These bills have been heavily criticised by the liberals in India who see it as draconian law against individual freedom.