Madhya Pradesh passes anti-conversion bill month after UP enacted similar law

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After Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh passed the controversial anti-conversion bill with a maximum sentence of up to 10 years in prison and up to 1 lakh in fine.

In an effort to prevent what it saw as widespread illegal religious conversions, Uttar Pradesh enacted the anti-conversion law entitled Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020, in November.

According to the law, forceful religious conversions will be punishable by a prison sentence of one to five years and a fine of 15,000 rupees; and forceful religious conversions of members of low-caste groups, women and minors will be punishable by imprisonment of three to ten years and a fine of 25,000 rupees.

After Uttar Pradesh, BJP-ruled states such as Karnataka, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Assam worked to pass similar anti-conversion laws.

On December 26, the Madhya Pradesh Cabinet passed the Freedom to Religion Bill 2020 that strictly regulates religious conversions and criminalizes religious conversion by financial allurement, marriage or force. 

“The bill includes a maximum punishment of up to 10 years in jail and up to 100,000 Indian rupees in fine, with the burden of proof virtually falling on the accused and those associated with the accused, including organisations and institutions,” state Home Minister, Narottam Mishra told in a news conference.

Those looking to change their faith would have to inform the district administration two months in advance, as per the official announcement.

Religious leaders performing religious conversions are also expected to notify the district administration 60 days in advance, failing which individuals will face a prison term of three to five years and a financial penalty of 50,000 rupees.

Furthermore, people who unlawfully convert minors and individuals from low castes will face a financial penalty of 25,000 rupees and a prison term of three to ten years.

However, the bill does exempt reconversion of one's ancestral faith because the draft law describes the "ancestral religion" at the time of its birth as the religion of the person's father.

Reconversion will not be punished because it is “more a realization of a mistake than a crime,” said state Home Minister, Mishra.