The draft of the Haryana Prevention of Unlawful Conversion of Religious Bill, 2022, was approved by the state Cabinet on Wednesday, reported NDTV. The Bill is aimed at prohibiting religious conversions through threat, coercion, fraud, allurement, misrepresentation and by marriage or for marriage.

It will be tabled in the state Legislative Assembly, scheduled to begin from March 2.

In a video posted on Twitter, Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar said that the Bill is being brought to stop illegal and forced religious conversions.

He said that the Bill also has provisions for people to convert. For this, he said, those who want to convert will have to declare that they are changing their religion willfully and file an application.

“If he does not notify about conversion and forcefully marries, converts under fraud or allurement, it [the conversion] will be illegal,” Khattar said. “For stopping this, this law is being brought before the Vidhan Sabha.”

The Bill is aimed at tackling “love jihad” a conspiracy theory espoused by Hindutva activists, claiming that Muslim men lure Hindu women to marry them in order to later convert them to Islam.

In November, Haryana Home Minister Anil Vij had said that his government has formed a three-member committee to frame a law on “love jihad”. In the same month, Khattar too had said his government was looking into the Constitutional legality of a law that would prevent “love jihad” in the state.

The “Statements of Objectives and Reasons” of the draft Bill cleared by the state Cabinet stated that there have been “umpteen cases” of forced religious conversions in the state. It claimed that “pseudo-social organisations with a hidden agenda” are present in the state to convert the vulnerable sections of other religions.

“In recent past several instances came to the notice that with an agenda to increase strength of their own religion by getting people from other religions converted, people marry persons of other religion by either misrepresentation or concealment of their own religion and after getting married they force such other person to convert to their own religion,” it said.

The draft Bill said that these incidents of forceful conversions not only infringe freedom of religion but “militate” people against the secular fabric of the society, reported The Hindu.

The draft Bill gives authorities the power to inquire such cases. It also allows for declaring marriages solemnised by concealment of religion as null and void.

“Provide that the burden of proof as to whether a conversion was not affected through misrepresentation, use of force, under threat, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means or by marriage or for marriage for the purpose of carrying out conversion lies on the accused,” the Bill said.

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While the Bharatiya Janata Party ministers in the state have cited “love jihad” as the reason behind bringing the Bill, Deputy Chief Minister Dushyant Chautala, the president of Jannayak Janta Party, is not in favour of the term, according to NDTV.

In an interview to NDTV, Chautala had said that he did not agree with the term “love jihad”

“We will get a law specifically for checking forceful religious conversion and we will support it,” he had said. “If anybody converts willingly or marries a partner of another faith, then there is no bar.”

Several BJP-ruled states like Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh have already enacted anti-conversion laws, citing “love jihad”.

The term is being used despite the BJP-led Centre’s statement in Lok Sabha in February 2020 that no “case of ‘love jihad’ has been reported by any of the central agencies”.

Investigations by the National Investigation Agency, the Karnataka Criminal Investigation Department, the Uttar Pradesh Special Investigation Team and others have turned up no evidence for this alleged conspiracy. The National Commission for Women maintains no data about “love jihad” too.