Madhya Pradesh law a on religious freedom targets Christians
For Archbishop Leo Cornelius of Bhopal, “This goes against constitutional principles and freedoms, and is a plan to systematically harass minorities, especially Christians.”
Mumbai (AsiaNews) – Madhya Pradesh Governor Anandiben Patel last Friday signed into law the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Ordinance, 2020. After promulgation, the decree was published in the Official Gazette, Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Rajesh Rajora said.
The law penalises religious conversions obtained by fraudulent means, including through marriage. It reads:
“The said ordinance states that no person shall: Convert or attempt to convert, either directly or otherwise, any other person by use of misrepresentation, allurement, use of threat or force, undue influence, coercion or marriage or by any other fraudulent means”.
“Marriages performed with the intent to convert a person shall be null and void [Section 6]. Marriages performed in contravention of Section 3 shall be deemed to be null and void.
The ordinance imposes ten years in prison in some cases. It has several provisions similar to the ordinance issued by the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh against fraudulent conversions.
The BJP government in Madhya Pradesh has taken the path of ordinances as the bill cannot be presented to the Assembly after its winter session was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The government approved the ordinance in a meeting on 29 December.
The ordinance imposes three to ten years imprisonment and a fine of 50,000 rupees (US$ 680) for marriages in which religion is concealed.
In cases of religious conversion of members of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and minors, the ordinance imposes two to ten years and a fine of 50,000 rupees.
Parents, legal guardians, or custodians and brothers and sisters of the convert can file a complaint about it. Those wishing to convert must apply to the district administration 60 days in advance.
Women victims will be entitled to maintenance. The children born in such marriages are entitled to their fathers’ assets.
Archbishop Leo Cornelius of Bhopal told AsiaNews that “This goes against constitutional principles and freedoms, and is a plan to systematically harass minorities, especially Christians. This is not a new law; it has existed since 1968 and modified in 2006 and now they have tightened it up to make it more stringent.
“This ordinance (now law) was brought in on account of Love Jihad, which is specifically aimed at the Christian minority. There is no data to prove Love jihad. This is driven by politics, not by evidence, and now they have these laws.”
“It appears that the political leaders of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh are in competition with each other to please their ‘political supremo’ and shine in the eyes of their political masters.
“People have been accused, but none of this can be proven in court. For Christians in particular, if they gather for family or community prayers, where there is singing, etc. an extremist group can interrupt the prayers, while another goes to the police to file a case of fabricated conversions against Christians.”
Meanwhile, “right wing Sangh Parivar groups (pictured) carry out mass conversion drives, which they term Ghar Vapasi or homecoming. These laws are not applied to them; they are one-sided with the sole intention of persecuting the Christian minority and pleasing their political bosses.
“This is completely against the constitutional guarantees of religious freedom in secular India.”