- It will be punished by up to 5 years in prison or fine of Rs 15,000
- All cases filed under the ordinance will be non-bailable
- There have been over 100 cases of forcible conversion, a minister said
Amid furious nationwide debate over "love jihad" - the right-wing conspiracy theory that Muslim men enter into relationships with Hindu women to forcibly convert them - the Uttar Pradesh government on Tuesday evening passed an ordinance to check forced religious conversions.
The ordinance comes less than a month after Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, while campaigning for UP Assembly bypolls, cited an Allahabad High Court order to invoke "Ram naam satya" - a Hindu funeral chant - to issue a thinly-veiled threat to "those who... play with our sisters' respect".
The Uttar Pradesh Unlawful Religious Conversion Prohibition Ordinance (2020) says religious conversions that use falsehood, force or an incentive, or take place solely for the purpose of marriage will be declared a crime.
Those who plan to convert after marriage, the government said, will have to inform the District Magistrate of their intention at least two months in advance.
The burden of proof - that the conversion was not forced or for marriage - will be on the person converting, and all cases filed under the ordinance will be non-bailable.
"Over 100 cases were before us where forcible conversion has taken place (and so) framing a law was necessary. Yogiji's cabinet has brought in an ordinance and there are many penal provisions," Siddharth Nath Singh, a UP cabinet minister, said.
According to the ordinance, forced conversion (or conversion through fraud) will be punished by up to five years' imprisonment or a fine of Rs 15,000. If the forced conversion involves a woman from the marginalised communities, then this will increase to between three and 10 years' jail and a fine of Rs 25,000. Mass conversions will attract a similar jail term and a fine of Rs 50,000.
Hours before the ordinance was passed the Allahabad High Court, in its final order in a significant case, cancelled a case against a Muslim man by the parents of his wife, who converted to Islam last year to marry him.
"Interference in a personal relationship would constitute a serious encroachment into the right to freedom of choice of the two individuals," the court observed, adding, "The courts and the constitutional courts, in particular, are enjoined to uphold life and liberty of an individual guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution."
"We do not see Priyanka Kharwar and Salamat Ansari as Hindu and Muslim, rather as two grown-up individuals who - out of their own free will and choice - are living together peacefully and happily over a year," the two-judge bench said.
"Love jihad" is a pejorative used by right-wing groups to target relationships between Muslim men and Hindu women, which, they say, is a ruse to forcibly convert the women.
Relationships between Hindu men and Muslim women are ignored.
It is a term not recognised by the centre. In February, the Union Home Ministry told parliament that "love jihad is not defined in law" and no such case had been reported by central agencies.
That, however, has not stopped a number of BJP-ruled states, including Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana, from insisting they will push through "anti-love jihad" legislation.