The Uttar Pradesh Law Commission has submitted a report to Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath suggesting a new law to check forced religious conversions. The report includes a draft legislation that has provisions for punishment in cases of forcible, coerced, allured religious conversions and gives power to the civil court to declare a marriage null and void if it was solemnised for religious conversion as its primary purpose. According to Commission chairman Justice Aditya Nath Mittal, in December 2017, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had suggested a new law for preventing forcible conversion and that any reconversion should not be considered an offence.
“Some organisations are enticing Hindus, especially SC/STs, to convert for their own gains. In the process, these organisations are making people insult their religious traditions and rich culture. In the past, large scale conversions took place under the Mughal and British rule as the then rulers encouraged it,” he said. Commission secretary Sapna Tripathi said: “We have submitted the report and the draft bill of the Uttar Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2019. Some of the highlights of the suggestions include making a provision for a person to submit a declaration to the district magistrate, a month before his/her conversion and a similar declaration from the priest (pujari, maulvi, priest) about the execution of that conversion.
“It also suggests giving power to the civil court to declare a marriage null and void if it was solemnised with the primary purpose of conversion. The report is against the forced, coerced, fraudulent, allured conversion and not against any wilful conversions.” Under the proposal, if one is found to have forcefully converted someone, the person can be jailed for a minimum of one year to a maximum of five years. However, in case the person converted is a minor, woman or from SC/ST community, the jail term extends from two to seven years. The report said that the commission was of the view that existing legal provisions were not enough to check forcible religious conversions and a new law was required like in ten other states that include Madhya Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Odisha, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
The 268-page report, including the draft legislation, was prepared after researching pre and post-independence laws in India and neighbouring countries like Nepal, Myanmar, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. The draft will be considered by the government, which may then choose to adopt it in parts or entirety. Justice Mittal said that the existing provisions of the IPC are not sufficient to prevent religious conversions and hence, the proposal for a new legislation.