The Uttarakhand Cabinet on Wednesday cleared a proposal to increase the maximum jail term under the state’s anti-conversion law from five years to ten years, The Indian Express reported.
Uttarakhand is one of the many BJP-ruled states that have enacted anti-conversion laws. The Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion Act, passed in 2018, states that “forced or fraudulent conversions done through force or allurement” are non-bailable offences.
The proposal cleared by the Cabinet would make forced religious conversion a cognisable offence, which would allow a police officer to arrest a person without a warrant.
An unidentified government official said that a legislation introducing the amendments will be introduced in the upcoming session of the state Assembly, which starts on November 29.
State Bharatiya Janata Party President Mahendra Bhatt said that the step will become a milestone in curbing forced conversion in the state, according to the newspaper.
The increase in jail terms under the law was part of a promise of the BJP to tackle “love jihad” ahead of the Assembly elections in the states in February.
“Love jihad” is a conspiracy theory espoused by Hindutva activists, who claim that it involves Muslim men luring Hindu women to marry them in order to later convert them to Islam.
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”.