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MP Freedom of Religion Act 2021

Context:

In a decision that provided relief to interfaith couples seeking to marry, the Madhya Pradesh High Court on restrained the state government from prosecuting “adult citizens if they solemnise marriage on their own volition” and violate Section 10 of the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act (MPFRA), 2021.

Relevance:

GS II: Polity and Governance

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Main provisions of the MPFRA, 2021
  2. How many cases have been registered under this law so far?
  3. Recent High Court order

Main provisions of the MPFRA, 2021

Section 5 of the MPFRA, 2021:
  • It prohibits unlawful conversion from one religion to another by use of misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, any other fraudulent means, allurement, or promise of marriage.

Punishment:
  • Violators face between one year and five years of imprisonment.
  • If the person who is converted is a child, a woman, or a person belonging to a Scheduled Tribe or Scheduled Caste, the punishment varies from two years to 10 years, with a fine of 50,000.
  • The punishment for mass conversions is five to 10 years in prison, with a penalty of Rs 1 lakh.
Cognizable and non-bailable:
  • Cases under the Act are cognizable (which means an arrest can be made without a warrant) and non-bailable. Complaints can be registered by the victim, the victim’s parents or siblings, or anyone else including a guardian with permission from the local court.
  • The complaint will be investigated by a police officer of the rank of sub-inspector and above.
Declaration of the intention to convert:
  • For a religious conversion to be valid, the law requires a 60-day prior “declaration of the intention to convert” to the district magistrate by the individual as well as the priest carrying out the conversion.
  • It is only after this, that a couple from different religions can be legally married.
  • Failure to notify the state of the intent to convert will render the wedding null and void, and an individual can be prosecuted for fraudulent conversion on the promise of marriage.
  • A priest who fails to notify the government can be punished with imprisonment from three to five years and a minimum fine of Rs 50,000.

How many cases have been registered under this law so far?

  • The purpose of the law was to prevent or discourage forcible or fraudulent religious conversions with the promise of marriage, something that Hindutva groups often refer to as “love jihad”.
  • Home Minister had informed the state Assembly that between the time the ordinance came into effect and the passage of the Act on March 7, 2021, at least 16 cases had been registered for alleged violation of the provisions of the law.
  • By the end of December 2021, 68 cases had been registered under the Act across the state.

Recent High Court order:

  • The order passed by Madhya Pradesh High Court found Section 10 of the MPFRA prima facie unconstitutional. This section requires individuals who are intending to convert, and the priest who would carry out the conversion, to notify the district magistrate of their intention 60 days in advance.
    • The court said: “Section 10 makes it obligatory for a citizen desiring conversion to give a declaration in this regard to the District Magistrate which in our opinion ex facie, unconstitutional in the teeth of aforesaid judgments of this Court. Thus, till further orders, respondent shall not prosecute the adult citizens if they solemnize marriage on their own volition and shall not take coercive action for violation of Section 10 of Act of 21.”
Gujarat High Court:
  • In August 2021, a division Bench of the Gujarat High Court comprising had stayed several provisions of The Gujarat Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Act, 2021, including those pertaining to prior permission from district magistrates, punishment for marriage by unlawful conversions, etc.
  • The Gujarat HC Bench observed that certain sections of the law “interferes with the intricacies of marriage including the right to the choice of an individual, thereby infringing Article 21 of the Constitution of India”.

-Source: Indian Express


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