The Bharatiya Janata Party government in Madhya Pradesh has notified a legislation that lays out a prison term of up to 10 years for anyone found guilty of using marriage to force someone to change their religion, PTI reported on Tuesday. The decree became a law after the Governor Anandiben Patel gave her assent to it.

“The Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act 2021 has been promulgated and published in the gazette notification on March 27 after the approval given by the Governor a day earlier [on March 26],” Additional Chief Secretary (Home), Madhya Pradesh, Rajesh Rajora, said.

The new Act replaced the Freedom of Religion Bill which was passed by the Madhya Pradesh Legislative Assembly on March 8, amid opposition by the Congress and the treasury benches. The Bill replaced the Freedom to Religion Ordinance that came into effect on January 9, and was cleared in a special Cabinet meeting on December 26.

The law follows a campaign by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party against interfaith marriages. The party describes such marriages as “love jihad,” an unproven conspiracy theory used by its leaders and Hindutva groups to accuse Muslim men of converting Hindu women by the lure of marriage.

The Uttar Pradesh Assembly passed a similar law on February 24, and the government has arrested a spate of Muslim men ever since. The Haryana government has formed a three-member drafting committee to frame a law to check on what it calls forced and unlawful religious conversions. Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani also announced that his government will soon introduce a “strict law” to check forcible conversion.

After the passage of the Bill in the Assembly, Madhya Pradesh Home Minister Narottam Mishra had said that the BJP government will oppose any marriage alliance that results in “jihad”. “Any love that offends our sentiments, we will oppose it,” he had said. “Any love who will make our daughters and sisters suffer, we will oppose it.”

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.

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.