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After UP now Madhya Pradesh passes the controversial anti-conversion law

Madhya Pradesh, Dec 26: The Madhya Pradesh Cabinet today passed by a voice vote a bill aimed at curbing forced religious conversions. If passed into law, it will include a maximum punishment of up to 10 years in jail and up to ₹ 1 lakh in fine, with the burden of proof virtually falling on the accused and those associated with the accused, including organisations and institutions.

The Dharma Swatantrya (Religious Freedom) Bill 2020 was tabled at a meeting of the state Cabinet chaired by Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, ahead of the Legislative Assembly session slated to be held later this month.

Hinting at a possible political angle in such suspect conversions, Mr Chouhan today said such instances have surfaced where if someone’s looking to capture a panchayat, “get married to a beti (daughter) and field her in polls”. “Only recently did we bring back underaged girls from various places. We won’t allow this to happen to innocent girls from Madhay Pradesh,” the Chief Minister said.

State Home Minister Narottam Mishra said that under the new bill, forcing religious conversion on someone will attract 1-5 years of imprisonment and a minimum ₹ 25,000 in fine. If the person converted, however, belongs to a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe or is underaged, the crime would draw a minimum jail term of 2-10 years with a maximum penalty of ₹ 1 lakh.

Those looking to change their religion will have to notify two months ahead, failing which the marriage will be considered null and void under the new law.

However, unlike the Uttar Pradesh law, under the MP law, a person converting of his own free will does not have to report it to the district magistrate. In case a person approaches a priest for such a conversion though, the priest concerned has to inform the district administration.