MP govt moves Bill to make anti-conversion law stringent
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Titled Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2013, the Bill was tabled in the assembly Tuesday. It seeks to amend the 1968 legislation on the ground that it stipulated lesser punishment, and was, therefore, ineffective to stop conversions.
The Bill stipulates a jail term of up to three years or a fine up to Rs 50,000, or both, for conversion using force, allurement or any other fraudulent means. When the person being converted is a minor, a woman or an SC/ST, the jail term will extend up to four years and fine up to Rs 1 lakh.
The 1968 legislation provided a jail term of one year for forcible conversions. The term went up to two years when the convert was a minor, a woman or a member of SC/ST.
While the 1968 legislation required the priest to inform the district magistrate after the conversion ceremony, the amendment proposes to make it compulsory for the priest to take a prior permission for the proposed conversion. The amendment proposes that even the newly convert will have to inform authorities within a stipulated time.
Violations either by the priest or the convert will be punished with a jail term of up to one year or a fine of Rs 1,000 or both, if they fail to notify authorities in their residential district. The amendment has been modeled on a law passed by the Modi government in Gujarat.
The BJP government in MP had passed a similar amendment in 2006 but the President rejected it, saying it violated the freedom of religion guaranteed in the constitution because it insists on prior permission. The amended legislation had been sent to the President by then Governor Balram Jakhar. On receiving the legislation passed by the assembly, Jakhar asked the state government to give details of conversions that took place in each district of the state.
Jakhar wanted to know how many people had informed the authorities after conversion and whether the amendment was justified. The government had sent figures but failed to convince Jakhar as many backward districts did not report any cases of conversion. contradicting the BJP government's stand that Christian missionaries were converting the poor by luring them with enticements.