Row over anti-conversion law reaches SC

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The Supreme Court of India

The Supreme Court of India.

Photo : PTI

New Delhi: In 2021, the Madhya Pradesh government had made it mandatory for people to inform the authorities two months in advance about interfaith marriage or willful conversion to another religion. Section 10 of the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act said that failure to do so would incur punitive actions including imprisonment and penalty. The move – in line with similar laws enacted in Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh now finds itself on shaky grounds, with the Madhya Pradesh High Court pressing pause.

In an interim order on Friday the HC directed the state government to not prosecute adults who solemnise their marriage on their own volition. The division bench dubbed Section 10 “unconstitutional in the teeth of aforesaid judgments of this court” and granted three weeks’ time to the state to file its para-wise reply to the petitions.

The Madhya Pradesh government has since announced its intention to move the move the Supreme Court to challenge the high court’s interim order.

What does the state government say?

Even as the HC granted three weeks for the MP government to file response to the petitions, Advocate General Prashant Singh told news agency PTI that the state would file a plea before the Supreme Court ‘shortly’. According to the Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led government, the aim of the law is to stop forced religious conversions on the pretext of marriage and the use of fraudulent means or force for conversion.

What about similar laws in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand?

Both states have imposed laws against forced conversions in recent years, with hundreds being arrested. Uttarakhand is also undertaking efforts to make the its own version of the anti-conversion law stronger, with an amendment that will make forced conversion a cognisable offence with a provision of 10-years imprisonment. This measure is already in place in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh.

As things currently stand, the laws in these two states will remain unaffected by the situation in Madhya Pradesh.

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