Haryana will soon enact its ‘anti-conversion law’, why is civil society silent?

On Friday, March 4, the Bharatiya Janata Party government in Haryana introduced the Prevention of Illegal Conversion of Haryana Religions Bill, 2022 in the Vidhan Sabha. This move by Haryana government follows similar moves by Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat and Karnataka, all BJP-ruled states. These were later passed into law. This bill was introduced in the current budget session of Haryana Vidhan Sabha and was protested by Dr. Raghuvir Singh Kadian of the Opposition Congress. Kadian, a six-time MP, tore up a copy of the bill on the floor of the House when Home Minister Anil Vij introduced the Prevention of Illegal Conversion of Religion Bill, 2022. According to IE , Kadian claimed that the bill reeks of a ‘hidden agenda’ of the state government to create division in society on the basis of religion. However, Anil Vij read the provisions of the bill and said that the bill was only aimed at forced conversion of religion and that it covered all religions and not any particular religion Kadian then tore out the copy of the bill which was tabled in the House, and was later suspended for it.

However, there has been virtual silence from civil society in the region, in particular Muslim, Christian and women’s rights groups, who are most affected by such a law as seen in other states. It’s not like the law was introduced secretly, because a year ago Haryana’s Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar spoke about it in the context of the so-called Love Jihad that most right-wing groups call it interreligious relations. The government of Haryana, led by the BJP-JJP, was considering a anti-conversion law since 2020. In August 2021, Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar had spoken at a press conference stating that the final draft of the “Forced Religious Conversions” Bill would soon be finalized. Khattar said: “The law is enacted to deter people when they start doing something wrong. Such incidents [of ‘love jihad’] started taking place in a few places in Haryana. Until this did not happen, or when there were only one or two such incidents, there was no requirement of such a law in this regard. But now, several incidents of forced religious conversion through coercion and deceptions have come to light. To prevent such incidents from happening, such laws are necessary. As an example, I can say that is why we passed the anti-copying bill. Laws are needed to prevent the increase in the number of such incidents,” the Indian Express reported. The bill was approved by the State Cabinet chaired by Khattar in February. Now the bill is ready to be passed.

According to media reports, the bill seeks to “prohibit religious conversions effected through false representation, force, undue influence, coercion, seduction or by any fraudulent means or through marriage or for marriage by making it a crime. The draft states that “the individual right to freedom of conscience and religion cannot be extended to construe a collective right to proselytize; for the right to religious freedom belongs equally to those who convert and to those who are sought to be converted. Yet there have been countless instances of religious conversions, both mass and individual. Of course, such incidents have been hotly debated, especially in a multi-religious society like ours. The presence of pseudo-social organizations with a hidden agenda to convert vulnerable sections of other religions. There have been cases where gullible people have been converted by offering seductions or under undue influence. Some were forced to convert to other religions. States ruled by the BJP KarnatakaUttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and now Haryana have enacted such bill and such law and other BJP ruled states such as Assam have also expressed their desire to enact similar laws to prevent conversions.

Recently, Arvind Kejriwal, Chief Minister of Delhi and leader of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), also echoed right-wing politicians and said that a “anti-religious conversion“The law must be made in Punjab. He had said, “Religion is a private matter. Everyone has the right to worship a God. Certainly a law should be enacted against religious conversions, but no one should be wrongfully harassed by it. Conversion made in scaring them is wrong.” In December 2021, Government of Karnataka passed an anti-conversion law becoming the 5th BJP-ruled state to pass one. In March, Haryana will likely become the 6th such state to pass a tough law against religious conversions based on a false and flimsy “love jihad” narrative that most BJP-ruled states consider as a seduction tactic used by minority religions to attract Hindus. daughters by marriage to convert them to their religion.

Current laws challenged

Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) had the first challenged the constitutional validity of the Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion Act, 2018 and the passing of the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020. The plea was later amended to also include similar laws passed by Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, which was cleared by the superior court. The laws have been challenged stating that Indian citizens enjoy the right to privacy as a fundamental right, but the laws and ordinances are unconstitutional as they attempt to control the lives of residents of Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, and not allowing them to take charge of important life decisions. The petition also said: “Love Jihad has played over the years to divide the country without official figures or evidence of forced conversions and that fears of an increase in ‘love jihad’ cases have been ‘unfounded’ ever since. start. Even though the rhetoric of Love Jihad has been sold off quite often in India, especially from Kerala and Karnataka, the government has admitted that the term “Love Jihad” is not defined in the current laws and that no case of “Love Jihad” does exist. was reported by one of the central agencies.

At August 19, 2021 The Gujarat High Court bench of Chief Justice Vikram Nath and Justice Biren Vaishnav passed an interim order ruling that the provisions of the Gujarat Religious Freedom (Amendment) Act 2021 will not apply to marriages interfaith meetings that take place without force, seduction or fraudulent means. Chief Justice Vikram Nath announced in open court: “After recording the opening remarks and arguments made, we have ordered the following. We are therefore of the opinion that pending a new hearing, the rigors of Articles 3, 4, 4A to 4C, 5, 6 and 6A will not apply simply because the marriage is solemnized by a person of one religion with another, without force or by seduction or by fraudulent means and such marriages cannot be qualified as marriages for the purpose of illegal conversion”.

The Gujarat High Court order imposed a stay on the operation of certain sections of the Gujarat Religious Freedom Act. The High Court even refused to allow the state government’s request for rectification seeking the removal of the stay while stating: ‘Before the amendment the marriage did not fall under section 3 but now due to the marriage entering Section 3, a conversion for marriage would also require Section 5 authorization. So in that sense we have only stayed within the scope of marriage. We have suspended Article 5 for weddings only. We did not maintain Section 5 as a whole.”

This order was challenged and heard by a bench of Justices S Abdul Nazeer and Krishna Murari of the Supreme Court on February 15. The Gujarat government, however, did not push for an interim order, pushing to suspend the contested order as Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said now was not the right time to hear the case. The bench then issued an advisory to Jamiat Ulama-E-Hind Gujarat and other private respondents including Mujahid Nafees

Section 3 (of Gujarat’s “Anti-Conversion Act” prohibits forcible conversion from one religion to another by the use of force or by seduction or by fraudulent means, or by aiding a person to marry by seduction or by fraudulent means Section 4, Sections 4A through 4C provide for penalties of imprisonment for unlawful conversion, declare marriages by unlawful conversion void, and also deal with offenses committed by organizations practicing unlawful conversion. Article 5 penalizes those who have encouraged the crime of forced conversion and Article 6 places the burden of proof on the accused.

In a similar order, the Allahabad High Court, in November 2021, said the Registrar of Marriages cannot delay the registration of interfaith marriages simply because approval for conversion by district authorities is pending. “The registrar/registrar cannot refuse to register a duly solemnized marriage and/or insist on a conversion approval from the district authority,” the court had said.

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