The Administration in Uttar Pradesh has given a green signal to an ordinance to deal with unlawful religious conversions.
The decision to approve the ordinance, ‘Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion Bill 2020’, was taken by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath at a cabinet meeting. Some experts are skeptical about the kind of provisions that are introduced in the ordinance and term it as very harsh.
Nevertheless, the ordinance provides for an imprisonment of 1-10 years and a fine of Rs 15,000 to Rs 50,000 under different categories.
According to sources in the Administration, the ordinance provides for one to 5 years of jail t with a minimum fine of Rs 15,000 for forced conversion, and 3-10 years of prison for the conversion of minors and women from the SC/ST community.
For forced mass conversions, the bill provides for a jail term of 3-10 years and a Rs 50,000 penalty. This apart, interfaith couples, who want to get married, will need to approach and inform the district magistrates two months in advance. Any violation of this will attract 6 months to 3 years of jail term and a Rs 10,000 fine.
Marriages could also be declared null and void if they are found to have involved forced religious conversions.
The law has its own progressive and regressive view in the eyes of many who are concerned but as far as the Uttar Pradesh Government is concerned.
Deputy CM Keshav Maurya told the media that “This law is much needed in the state,” they are pretty confident. This bold move by the government is a follow up of the earlier judgment by the Allahabad High Court where the court upheld the right to freedom of choice of individuals and even observed that its earlier judgments in two previous cases of interfaith marriages — where it had noted religious conversion solely for marriage were prohibited — were incorrect and did not lay down “good law”.
The government despite all this does maintain their stand that they are not against inter-religion marriages but are only concerned with forced conversions after marriages, it will be interesting to see that how this law will pan out in implementation as if history is any lesson then we have seen time and again that laws dealing with such sensitive issue tend to either stand redundant by the society or is misused by the influential to harass the weak.
Over and above this will fuel the anti-muslim image of the Yogi government in the state and the country.
But any of these cannot be conclusively said and is left to be witnessed by the future, for now, we have the statement of the head of UP Law Commission “It only proposes that religious conversion by force, or by giving inducement or by facilitating conversion through marriages, should be included in the category of crime. Under this law, religious conversion is allowed, but conversion by force or through any kind of inducement is not,”.