Madhya Pradesh Religious Freedom Bill, 2020

The State Government of Madhya Pradesh has proposed to table “Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Bill, 2020” in the forthcoming Vidhan sabha session. It is also called as “Dharma Swatantrya Bill 2020”. This bill is seen as a check against rising incidents of inter-religion marriage.

Major provisions of the bill

  • The bill proposes that use of inducements, seduction or fraudulent practices for marriage and religious conversions will attract heavy penalty and five years’ imprisonment.
  • Such marriages are proposed to be null and void. The Bill has also proposed the offence to be cognizable and non-bailable.
  • The bill mandates the kin of the person to file a complaint, if forced to convert to other faith for the purpose of marriage.
  • Under the Bill, those encouraging the offence would be considered as culprits just as the main accused.
  • The Bill also mandates that, those who are involved in religious conversion for marriages, they should inform the District Magistrates at least a month in advance, together with religious persons organizing the conversions.

Concerns associated with the bill

  • There is no legal sanction to political terms like ‘love jihad’. Any legislation cannot be enacted based on an extra-legal concept.
  • In any case, legislative interference in marriages involving consenting adults will be completely unconstitutional.
  • Critics are saying that this proposal is a product of patriarchy and communalism.

What is ‘love jihad’?

It is an Islamophobic assumption that the Hindu women are under the threat from Muslim youth seeking to win over girls for religious conversion in the name of marriage. There is no legal definition of this concept of ‘love jihad’.

Governing law for inter-religion marriage

Marriage in India is governed by separate laws like Hindu Marriage Act and personal law etc. However, the Special Marriage Act governs an inter-faith marriage.

Judiciary’s ruling

The Allahabad High Court recently declined the idea of religious conversion solely for the purpose of marriage. Court’s ruling is useful as a principle that inter-faith couples retain their religious beliefs separately and opt for marriage under the Special Marriage Act. But, this principle cannot be used to derogate from personal choice. Further, it should not be used to violate the individual freedom to forge matrimonial alliances.