LUCKNOW: Uttar Pradesh on Saturday became the first state to legally ban ‘forced’ or ‘dishonest’ religious conversions, with the Governor clearing the ordinance. The law basically targets the so-called ‘love jihad.’ The Yogi Adityanath cabinet had approved the draft proposal of the ordinance against forcible or “dishonest” religious conversions, including those for the sake of marriage, which could land violators in jail for up to 10 years, early this week.
Opposition Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav vowed to oppose the ordinance in the assembly. “Instead of this, bring an ordinance for the procurement of farmers’ produce. Bring an ordinance that will give employment to the jobless youth,” Akhilesh tweeted. According to the UP Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020, a marriage will be declared “null and void” if the conversion of a woman is solely for that purpose, and those wishing to change their religion after marriage need to apply to the district magistrate.
The new law includes a provision to void a marriage if it is solemnized primarily to convert a woman’s faith. The ordinance came following a law commission report and after studying all possible aspects, the government said.
The draft ordinance makes religious conversions using force, coercion, enticement, deceit, and fraud non-bailable and cognizable offences. It means that a police officer can arrest a suspect of the offence without warrant and can start an investigation without the permission of a court.
The law provides for imprisonment of a minimum of one year to a maximum of five years and a penalty of not less than `15,000 in case of adult conversion. In cases where a minor girl or a woman from the Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe communities is involved, the imprisonment ranges from three years to 10 years and a penalty of at least `25,000. In cases of collective or mass illegal conversion, the punishment is between three and 10 years with a penalty of at least Rs 50,000.
In such offences, the registration of the organization holding a mass conversion event could be cancelled. The law also empowers district magistrates to award compensation not exceeding `5 lakh to a victim of forced conversion. If individuals want to change their faith, they will have to apply in a prescribed format two months before the planned conversion. This is double the period stipulated in the 1954 Special Marriage Act that regulates interfaith unions.
Violation of this clause in the ordinance would make a person liable for imprisonment between six months and three years and a penalty of at least Rs 10,000. The state brought the law roughly a month after CM Yogi Adityanath vowed to end the so-called ‘ love jihad ’. However, the ordinance doesn’t mention the word ‘love jihad’ anywhere, said UP law commission chairperson AN Mittal, who was involved in drafting the document.