Madhya Pradesh Home Minister Narottam Mishra on Monday said the Bharatiya Janata Party government will oppose any love that results in “jihad”, reported The Indian Express. “Love jihad” is a conspiracy theory espoused by right-wing Hindutva activists, alleging that Hindu women are forcibly converted by Muslims through marriage.

“Any love that leads towards jihad, we will oppose it,” Mishra said while speaking to the media on Monday, according to The Indian Express. “Any love that offends our sentiments, we will oppose it. Any love who will make our daughters and sisters suffer, we will oppose it.”

The Madhya Pradesh home minister reportedly made the statement after the state Assembly passed an anti-conversion law, the Freedom to Religion Bill, 2021. It was passed after a voice vote amid opposition by the Congress and the treasury benches.

The Bill replaces the Freedom to Religion Ordinance that came into effect on January 9, and was cleared in a special Cabinet meeting on December 26.

In the Assembly, the Congress criticised the passage of the Bill and the ruling BJP government in the state. Senior Congress leader Dr Govind Singh accused Mishra of getting the Bill passed to impress Union Home Minister Amit Shah. “Does this bill not violate Article 21 of the Constitution that guarantees personal freedom and liberty and Article 25 that guarantees a person the freedom of choosing the religion of his own will?” he asked, according to The Indian Express.

Congress MLA from Balaghat Heena Kavera asked if a survey was done to substantiate the need for such a Bill. “Considering there is already an Act [MP Freedom of Religion Act-1968] against forced conversion, why is this new Bill needed?” Kavera told The Indian Express. “The total numbers of FIRs registered in this regard should be given out by the home minister while answering succulently.”

At least 23 cases have been registered under the legislation so far, with seven cases in Bhopal, five in Indore, four each in Jabalpur and Rewa, and three in Gwalior division, according to Mishra. However, police records show that only 16 cases have been registered so far, according to The Indian Express.

Replying to a debate before the Bill was passed, Mishra said the government would not tolerate “Rafiq becoming Ravi” for “love jihad”, reported PTI. The home minister said that he was not “averse to love” but was “against jihad”.

Details of the Freedom to Religion Bill, 2021

Section 3 of the Bill states that no person shall convert or attempt to convert either directly or otherwise any other person from one religion to another by misrepresentation, allurement, use of threat or force, undue influence, coercion or by marriage or abet or conspire such conversion, reported Bar and Bench.

Under Section 5, a person found guilty will be punishable with a prison term of one to five years and a fine not less than Rs 25,000. If the person who has been converted is a minor, a woman or a person belonging to the Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe, the jail term will be between two and 10 years and the fine will be Rs 50,000 or above.

Mass conversion will attract a punishment of Rs 1 lakh or above and a prison time between five and 10 years. Mass conversion has been defined in the Bill as two or more persons being converted at the same time, according to Bar and Bench.

Section 10 says that if someone wishes to convert their religion, they need to submit a declaration to the district magistrate sixty days in advance, stating that they are doing so without any force, coercion, undue influence or allurement, reported Bar and Bench. If this is not followed, the person can be punished with imprisonment of three to five years and a fine of not less than Rs 50,000.

Section 12, an important provision, states that the burden of proof that the conversion was not through misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement, marriage or by any fraudulent means lies on the accused, according to Bar and Bench.

‘Love jihad’ legislations

Bharatiya Janata Party governments in some states have also decided to introduce laws aimed at preventing inter-faith marriage. The Uttar Pradesh Assembly in Uttar Pradesh passed a similar law on February 24. 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.

Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani had also said last month that his government will soon introduce a law to check forcible conversion. “Such activities being done in the name of love jihad will not be tolerated,” he had said. “The BJP government will bring strict laws against love jihad in the coming days.”

These actions were taken despite the fact that in February, the Centre told the Lok Sabha that no “case of ‘love jihad’ has been reported by any of the central agencies”.