Anti Conversion laws by Krishna Sreeja @lexcliq

Introduction:

It is guaranteed under the Constitution of India that India is a secular country. The government of India, neither promotes nor follows any religion. It treats all religions equally. Every person has a right to follow and practice any religion of his/ her choice. They can convert into any religion, but the conversion must be voluntary. So, to avoid the conversion of faith by undue influence, Coercion, etc… there are some anti –  conversion laws which were proposed to union government. But these proposals were never taken into consideration. But,  three states enacted the anti – conversion laws. The states are Himachal Pradesh followed by Uttar Pradesh and then Madhya Pradesh.

Anti- Conversion laws:

Under the Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2019; Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religious Ordinance, 2020 and MP’s Freedom to Religion Ordinance, 2020, the conversion or changing the faith by the couples inter faiths. The common provision in three laws by the three states is that the marriage would annulled if the details of conversion were not submitted in prior. Such marriages would be declared ‘ null and void’.

The MP law requires a 60-day prior “declaration of the intention to convert” to the District Magistrate for conversion to be valid, following which a couple from different religions can be legally married.The Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religious Ordinance, 2020, too requires a 60-day notice but also requires the Magistrate to conduct a police inquiry to ascertain the real intention behind the conversion. The Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2019 , requires a 30 day prior “declaration of intention to convert”.

MP law states that there cannot be an investigation by a police officer except on the written complaint of the person converted or the person’s parents/siblings. Guardians of the person converted can file a complaint only with the permission of a court. The MP law also says that no police officer below the rank of a sub-inspector can investigate an offence under the law. The Himachal law says that prosecution cannot be initiated without the prior sanction of an officer not below the rank of a sub-divisional magistrate. The UP law allows the same people as allowed by the MP law to file a complaint.

In case if the marriage is declared as null and void because of conversion, MP law protects the women and children after this declaration. According to this law, the woman whose marriage has been declared null and void under this legislation, and her children, will have a right to maintenance. The law does not, however, provide a recourse for ensuring the marriage can be protected subsequently. Neither the UP nor the Himachal law has such provisions.

PUNISHMENTS UNDER THE THREE LAWS:

The offence of illegal conversion under the laws of all three states is cognisable and non-bailable, which means an arrest can be made without a warrant and bail is granted only by the discretion of the judge. Under the MP law, a person can be sentenced to a jail term between one and five years for converting or attempting to convert unlawfully. If the person converted is a woman, a minor or a person belonging to a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe (SC/ST), the sentence is two to 10 years. It also provides for a jail term of three to 10 years for concealing one’s religion during the marriage.

The UP law provides for a minimum punishment of one year, which can be extended up to five years, and repeat offences can carry double the maximum sentence. Men are awarded a higher punishment if convicted of causing conversion of a woman, a minor or a person belonging to an SC/ST — in which case the sentence is between 2 to 10 years. In the Himachal law, a person can be sentenced to a jail term of one to five years for converting or attempting to convert unlawfully. If the person converted is a woman, a minor or a person belonging to an SC/ST, the sentence is two to seven years.

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