5-year imprisonment, non-bailable offence: Madhya Pradesh to bring law against forced inter-faith marriages

Madhya Pradesh home minister Narottam Mishra on Tuesday said the state government was making preparations to introduce a law against forced inter-faith marriages in the next Assembly session.

The legislation, Mishra said, will be called the ‘Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Bill, 2020’. If passed, it will perhaps be the first such law in the country.

“Making preparations to introduce Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Bill, 2020, in Assembly. It will provide for five years of rigorous imprisonment. We’re also proposing that such crimes be declared a cognisable and non-bailable offence,” news agency ANI quoted Mishra as saying.

“There will be provision to declare marriages taking place forcefully, out of fraud or by tempting someone for religious conversion as null and void. Those assisting in committing this crime will also be considered a party to it,” the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader further said.

Mishra added that under the proposed law, the parents/siblings of a person who has been forcibly converted will have to mandatorily file a complaint for action. “Religious leader who is converting the person will have to inform the District Magistrate one month in advance. We’ll introduce this bill in the next session,” he said.

Earlier this month, Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, too, had backed a potential law against forced inter-faith marriages, saying his government would bring a strict law to counter the alleged practice.

Such marriages are called ‘love jihad’ by right-wing activists to describe, what they allege, are instances of Muslim youths, pretending to be in love with Hindu girls and, upon marriage, forcibly converting them to Islam. The demand for a strict law against this alleged practice picked up steam after the murder last month of Nikita Tomar in Haryana’s Ballabhgarh.

In the wake of the incident, several BJP-ruled states like Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka had suggested they would bring laws to curb such instances.

However, earlier this year, the central government, where, just like the aforementioned states, the BJP is in power, had rejected the idea, saying that neither was such a term defined in law nor had any such case been reported by any of the central agencies.

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