Madhya Pradesh is all set to introduce what is being famously touted as The Love Jihad Law. However, before you jump up at this angrily here is something that you should know.
The “Love Jihad Law” is actually called as “Freedom of Religion Act 2020” What people might not know is that there already exists a “Freedom of Religion Act 1968” which was passed first in Madhya Pradesh and then adopted by various other states like Odisha, Himachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat and Arunachal Pradesh.
The Freedom of Religion Act 1968
The Freedom of Religion Act 1968, restricts conversions by force, allurement or by fraudulent means. As per the existing law the offenders can be punished up to 2 years in jail and fined up to Rs. 10,000. This controversial bill has been used ample number of times in various states.
The most popular case was in Madhya Pradesh when 8 Christians were arrested for “forcibly converting” 71 tribal kids to Christianity in 2017. They were all acquitted after a long legal battle in Feb 2020. What the new Bill proposes is nothing more than increasing the jail term to 5 years and the fine to Rs. 1 lakh, though further details on the bill are awaited.
This is not the first time that BJP has tried to amend the Freedom of Religion Act, 1968 in Madhya Pradesh. An amendment was introduced in 2006 and then again in 2013, both times it was approved by the State Assembly and then rejected by the President’s Office. (The 2013 amendment is still pending with the President as per the last reports) Would the new law change anything? I don’t think so !!
The law remains controversial and while it calls itself “Freedom of Religion” it is the exact opposite of it. The law has been used to harass people who convert from one faith to another (usually Hindus converting to any other faith) and has been challenged umpteen number of times in the higher courts.
While forced conversions are and should be illegal, it is ridiculous that the Government wants to have a say in the process of someone wanting to change his/her faith by choice. That this law will be further used to harass the minorities is not even debatable. That the BJP will claim that they are the ones who introduced this law because their hearts bleed for those who are forced to convert is nothing more than sham.
The bill against forced conversions was first introduced in the Madhya Pradesh State Assembly in 1958 and then again in 1963 by the Indian National Congress. It was rejected in both attempts, then.
To conclude, this is yet another rabble rousing attempt by the BJP to amend an existing law and make it more draconian than it already is so that it can be used to push the minorities in a corner, again.
Disclaimer: When it was known that a law that wants you to take approval of the State for your basic Freedom, is being called as a “Freedom Bill”, Irony slowly opened the window and quickly jumped out of it without taking any approval from the Government.
This article by Darshan Mondkar was first published on his Facebook Timeline.