UP cabinet passes ordinance to check ‘unlawful’ religious conversions

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Giving legal teeth to his promise of a crackdown on forcible conversions amid a spiralling row over “love jihad”, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath and his cabinet passed the UP Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion ordinance on Tuesday.

The law makes forced religious conversion punishable in the state with a jail term between one and 10 years and a fine stretching from Rs 15,000 to Rs 50,000. A marriage for the sake of conversion will be declared null and void.

The ordinance will be promulgated after the governor’s nod with the pandemic cloud over the winter session of the assembly.

Government spokesperson Sidharth Nath Singh said the ordinance was necessary to maintain law and order in UP and ensure justice for women, especially from SC/ST communities.

“The law was necessitated by the rising incidence of forced conversions in the garb of marriage. More than 100 such cases have come to light. These conversions were carried out with deceit and force. This made it necessary to bring in a law. There is a high court order as well which states religious conversion for the sake of marriage is illegal,” said Singh.

As a punishment for indulging in forced conversion, the ordinance lays down a jail term of 1-5 years and a fine of Rs 15,000 for accused.

If minors or SC/ST women have been forced to convert, the prison term increases to 3-10 years and the fine would be Rs 25,000. In case of community or mass conversion, the jail term is 3-10 years and the fine slapped on the organisation engineering the act would be Rs 50,000, the ordinance states. The organisation’s licence would also be cancelled.

The onus of proving that the conversion was not forcible, not done through deceit and not driven for the sake of marriage, will rest on the person who performed the conversion and the person who converted.

If someone willingly wanted to convert for the sake of marriage, s/he would have to give a notice two months in advance to the district magistrate concerned, said Singh. Failure to do so will invite a fine of at least Rs 10,000 and a jail term of six months to 3 years.

On October 31, while speaking at an election rally in Jaunpur, Yogi Adityanath promised a strict law against “love jihad”, quoting an order from the Allahabad high court where a single-bench judge said religious conversions only for the sake of marriage was unacceptable. However, a two-judge bench of the same court later observed that the judgment was “bad in law”.

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