- Apprentice Lawyer
The Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Ordinance, 2020, which regulates religious conversion and inter-faith marriage, came into force on January 9.
The Ordinance was signed off by Madhya Pradesh Governor Anandiben Patel, who recently also promulgated a very similar Ordinance passed by the Uttar Pradesh cabinet in November 2020.
In fact, many of the definitions and provisions in the UP Ordinance are mirrored in the MP ordinance.
Below are the key aspects of the ordinance:
Conversion [Section 2(c)] means renouncing one religion and adopting another but the return of any person already converted to the fold of his parental religion shall not be deemed conversion.
Allurement' [Section 2(a)] means any gift, gratification, easy money or material benefit either in cash or kind, employment, free education in a reputed school run by any religious body or better lifestyle, divine pleasure or otherwise.
Coercion [Section 2(b)] means compelling an individual to act against his will by any means whatsoever including psychological pressure of physical force.
Force [Section 2(d)] includes a show of force or a threat of injury of any kind to the person converted or sought to be converted or to his parents siblings or any other person related by marriage, adoption, guardianship or custodianship or their property including a threat of divine pleasure or social ex-communication.
Fraudulent [Section 2(e)] means misrepresentation of any kind.
Section 3 states that no person shall convert or attempt to convert either directly or otherwise any other person from one religion to another by misrepresentation, allurement, use of threat or force, undue influence, coercion or by marriage or abet or conspire such conversion.
As per Section 4, a police officer can investigate into such conversion upon receipt of written complaint of a person converted or by his/her parents, siblings or with the leave of any court by any other person who is related to him/her by blood, marriage, adoption or guardianship.
Section 5 prescribes punishment for contravention of Section 3.
A person found guilty of offence under Section 3 will be punishable with imprisonment of 1 to 5 years and fine which shall not be less than Rs. 25,000.
Importantly, however, contravention of Section 3 with respect to a minor, woman or a person belonging to Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe shall attract a punishment of imprisonment of 2 to 10 years and shall also be liable to fine not less than Rs. 50,000.
Further, the punishment for mass conversion shall be imprisonment of 5 to 10 years and fine of not less than Rs. 1 lakh. Mass conversion is defined in the Ordinance as a conversion where two or more persons are converted at the same time.
One of the most important provisions in the ordinance is the proviso to Section 5.
It says that any person who intends to marry a person of any other religion other than the religion professed by him and conceals his religion in such a manner that the person whom he intends to marry believes that his religion is truly the one professed by him shall be punished with imprisonment of 3 to 10 years and shall also be liable to fine of not less than Rs. 1 lakh.
Any marriage performed in contravention of Section 3 shall be deemed to be null and void [Section 6].
However, a woman whose marriage has been so declared as null and void and her children born out of such marriage shall be entitled to maintenance as provided in Chapter IX of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) [Section 9].
As stated earlier, the Ordinance does not affect just inter-faith marriage. Anybody who wishes to convert from one religion to another has to go through the procedure prescribed by the Ordinance.
As per Section 10, any person who desires to convert his or her religion should give a declaration in the prescribed format, sixty days in advance to the District Magistrate that he wishes to convert his religion without any force, coercion, undue influence or allurement.
The religious priest or any other person who intends to organise the conversion should also give 60 days’ notice to the District Magistrate of the district where such conversion is proposed to be organised.
Contravention of the same will be punished with imprisonment of 3 to 5 years and fine of not less than Rs. 50,000.
Unlike the UP Ordinance, which goes on to describe further powers of the District Magistrate in this regard, the MP Ordinance is silent on the course of action which the District Magistrate adopts after he receives a declaration from a person of his intention to covert.
Another crucial provision in the Ordinance is Section 12.
It states that the burden of proof as to whether a conversion was not effected through misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement, marriage or by any fraudulent means lies on the accused.