The Madhya Pradesh High Court has issued a notice to the state government on a plea challenging the provisions of the anti-conversion law, the Hindustan Times reported on Saturday, citing the office of the state’s advocate general.
Advocate General Purushaindra Kaurav accepted the notice on behalf of the state government and sought time to seek instructions and file a counter-affidavit, according to his office. A bench of Chief Justice Mohammad Rafiq and Judge Vijay Kumar Shukla gave the government eight weeks to file its reply. The matter has been listed for further hearing on March 31, reported India Legal.
The MP Freedom of Religion Bill 2020, which came into force in the state on January 9, provides for one to five years of imprisonment and a fine of Rs 25,000, for forcing religious conversion.
The public interest litigation was filed by Bhopal-based student Amratansh Nema. The PIL states that “the provisions contained in the ordinance are a grave violation of constitutional provisions and a blatant attack on the religious autonomy of individuals”.
Under the provisions of the anti-conversion law, it is mandatory to relay information to the district collector 60 days about the conversion before doing it. The petitioner has alleged that it is in violation of the fundamental rights.
Under the MP Religious Freedom Act 1968, it was stated that if a person was forced to convert, they could file a complaint to the police and the collector. The MP Freedom of Religion Ordinance 2020 states that if a person is converted under pressure, the person concerned as well as his parents and family can also file a complaint to the police and the collector.
Nema, who himself pleaded in the case, said that this provision can be misused. During the hearing, he claimed that the anti-conversion law was in violation of the right to equality, life and religious freedom as granted in the Constitution.
The Adityanath-led government in Uttar Pradesh also passed a similar law aimed at tackling “love jihad” – a conspiracy theory espoused by right-wing Hindutva activists, alleging that Hindu women are forcibly converted by Muslims through marriage.
Bharatiya Janata Party governments in some other states have also decided to introduce laws aimed at preventing inter-faith marriage. The Haryana government has formed a three-member drafting committee to frame a law on the matter. Karnataka and Assam governments have made similar announcements.
These actions are despite the fact that in February 2019, the Centre told the Lok Sabha that no “case of ‘love jihad’ has been reported by any of the central agencies”.