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Opinion

Madhya Pradesh Governor Passes Ordinance to Regulate Interfaith Marriages

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Governor Anandiben Patel on Thursday signed an ordinance for enactment to regulate interfaith marriages in Madhya Pradesh. The ordinance provides for prison terms of two to 10 years and a fine of up to 50,000 rupees for anyone found guilty of “forcing women, minors and persons of recognized castes and tribes to undergo religious conversion.”

According to the ordinance, reconversion to embrace one’s own “ancestral religion” will not be considered a crime, according to the official.

An official said Patel signed the drafts of the 12 ordinances that the state cabinet approved and sent for consent and promulgation on Dec. 29. The ordinances were issued when the winter session of the state assembly was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Among them is the one that provides life imprisonment for those guilty of adulteration of food and drugs.

Read also | Supreme Court will examine laws against illegal conversion in UP, Uttarakhand

The Madhya Pradesh Ordinance Dharmik Swatantrata (Freedom of Religion) defines ancestral religion as that of a person’s father at birth. It replaces the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act of 1968 and prohibits conversion and attempts at conversion made through “misrepresentation, seduction, threat, force, undue influence, coerced marriage and any fraudulent means”. “Conspiracy and complicity for religious conversion have also been prohibited …”, says the ordinance.

It provides for the annulment of interreligious marriages solemnized by “misrepresentation, seduction, threat, coercion, undue influence and fraud.” The ordinance seeks to grant parental property rights to children born from such marriages and support to women and children.

The cases registered under the ordinance are recognizable and not subject to bail and the session courts are authorized to hear them.

The ordinance has a provision to punish organizations that organize such conversions. A person who voluntarily adopts another religion and the priest who does so will have to inform the district magistrate at least 60 days before the scheduled date of conversion.

More than two dozen Muslims have been arrested in neighboring Uttar Pradesh since a similar ordinance was enacted there last month. Other states ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party such as Haryana, Karnataka and Assam plan to introduce similar anti-conversion laws that critics say are vague and used to target interfaith couples.

Hindustan Times

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