NEW DELHI: The Uttar Pradesh Cabinet on Tuesday cleared a draft ordinance that seeks to check religious conversions for the sake of marriage. The proposed law entails severe punishment up to 10 years for violators.
Confirming the development, state minister Siddharth Nath Singh said, “The way in which religious conversions are done using deceit, lies, force and dishonesty is heart wrenching, and it was necessary to have a law in this regard.”
Under the proposed law, a marriage will be declared 'null and void' if the conversion of a woman is solely for that purpose.
Those wishing to change their religion after marriage need to apply to the district magistrate, according to the draft ordinance which would become law after its promulgation by the state Governor.
An official spokesperson said the state Cabinet gave its nod to the proposed law, roughly translated from Hindi as Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Illegal Conversion Ordinance, 2020 -- at its meeting chaired here by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.
Conversion for the alleged purpose of marriage is, however, one aspect of the draft ordinance.
The state government said the law aims to prohibit religious conversion done using dishonest means like false representation, through force, influence, torture, allurement or for the sake of marriage.
An official spokesperson said the onus to prove that conversion has not been done using such means will lie on the person carrying it out and the person who got converted.
In cases of mass religious conversion, the registration of the social organisations will be cancelled and strong action initiated against them.
Punishment under the new law is a jail term of 1-5 years, and a fine of Rs 15,000.
If the girl involved is a minor or belongs to Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe, then the jail term will range from three to 10 years with the fine increasing to Rs 25,000.
"In the case of mass conversions, the punishment is from three years to 10 years and a fine of Rs 50,000 on the organisations which indulge in it," the minister told reporters.
Addressing meetings for the by-polls in Jaunpur and Deoria last month, Chief Minister Adityanath had said his government would come out with a law to tackle marriage-related conversions.
"We will bring an effective law. It is my warning to those who play with the honour and dignity of sisters and daughters by hiding their real names and identities. If they do not mend their ways, their ''Ram Naam Satya'' journey will start," he had said, referring to a funeral chant.
He had also referred then to an Allahabad High Court ruling which had declared that conversion for the sole purpose of marriage is not valid.
"The commission is of the view that existing legal provisions are not enough to check religious conversion and on this serious matter, a new law is needed like in some other states," the report had said.
More recently, UP Law Minister Brijesh Pathak said, "There has been a rise in such cases in the state which have caused social disharmony and enmity. These incidents are also bringing a bad name to the state and therefore a strict law is the need of the hour."
In recent weeks, BJP-run Haryana and Madhya Pradesh have also revealed plans to enact laws to counter alleged attempts at converting Hindu women into Islam in the guise of marriage, which Hindu activists call ‘love jihad’.
The development comes days after the Allahabad High Court said the right to live with a person of one’s choice, irrespective of religion, is intrinsic to right to life and personal liberty.
The Yogi Adityanath government had recently set up a special investigation team to probe into at least 14 cases, where Muslim men have allegedly concealed their religious identity to lure Hindu girls.
Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha, MP, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand and Gujarat already have anti-conversion laws.
(With PTI Inputs)