[dropcap]T[/dropcap]HE Uttar Pradesh State Law Commission has proposed a new draft legislation – Uttar Pradesh Freedom of Religion Bill, 2019 – ostensibly to check forcible religious conversions in the state, making it a punishable offence and laying the burden of proof on the person who is alleged to have effected the conversion.
The draft legislation recommended by the State Law Commission in its “Eighth Report on Freedom of Religion”, was submitted to Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath by Justice Aditya Nath Mittal, Chairman of State Law Commission, on November 21, 2019.
Purportedly aiming “to provide freedom of religion by the prohibition of conversion from one religion to another by misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means or by marriage”, the draft Bill allows any “aggrieved” person, their parents, brother, sister, or any other person who is related to them by blood, marriage or adoption to lodge a complaint of forced conversion.
It recommends punishment including imprisonment for a term not less than one year but which may extend to five years and fine. However, in the case of conversion of a minor, a woman or a person belonging to the Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe it recommends a punishment of imprisonment for a minimum of two years which may be extended to seven years and a fine.
It lays the burden of proof as to whether a religious conversion was not effected through misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means or by marriage on the person who allegedly caused the conversion, while also suggesting that any conversion done for the sole purpose of marriage be declared null and void.
At present, there are anti-conversion statutes in force in ten states of India including Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Uttarakhand. These statues regulate religious conversions carried out by misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or inducement. Despite these enactments, there have been only a few arrests and no conviction.