MPHC notice to state govt on plea against Freedom of Religion Ordinance

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Madhya Pradesh High Court (MPHC) on Friday issued notice to the Madhya Pradesh Government seeking its response on a PIL against the Freedom of Religion Ordinance 2020. Representational image

Madhya Pradesh High Court (MPHC) on Friday issued notice to the Madhya Pradesh Government seeking its response on a writ petition against the Freedom of Religion Ordinance 2020, promulgated in the state recently.

The MPHC issued the notice while hearing the writ petition jointly signed by LS Herdenia, Mohammad Haroon Khan, Shailendra Kumar Shaili, Dr Christy Abraham, Javed Anis, Arvind Kumar Andrews, Asha Mishra and Marko Baba, against the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Ordinance 2020.  

In the plea, the petitioners sought a writ, order or direction of appropriate nature for declaring the Ordinance promulgated by the Governor of Madhya Pradesh on January 9, 2021, “The Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Ordinance 2020”, as ultra-virus of the Constitution.

The petition stated that it violates principles of article 14, 19, 21 and 25 and therefore is causing undue harassment to the innocent people at large and therefore liable to be set aside. It also added that the Ordinance is violating Fundamental rights of the individual at large.

Anti-religious conversion law

According to the counsels of the petitioners – Adv. Samresh Katare and Adv. Himanshu Mishra – the MPHC, accepting the petition, issued the notice to the Madhya Pradesh government to respond.

Earlier, on January 30, 2021, the MPHC had issued a notice to the state government while hearing a PIL against the anti-religious conversion law filed by Amratansh Nema, a student from Bhopal.

The PIL said that that provisions of the ordinance are a “grave violation of constitutional provisions and a blatant attack on the religious autonomy of individuals”.

Provision of ten years jail

The Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Ordinance, 2020, provides for ten years in jail in some cases. It has several provisions that are similar to the ordinance issued by the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh against fraudulent conversions. Any marriage solemnised in violation of this law will also be considered null and void.

There is a provision of three to 10 years of imprisonment and a fine of Rs 50,000 in cases of marriage carried out by hiding religion. In cases involving religious conversion of members of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and minors, a provision has been made for the imprisonment of two to 10 years and Rs 50,000 fine.

The parents, legal guardian or custodian and brothers and sisters of the converted person can lodge a complaint in this regard.

Those willing to convert will need to apply to the district administration 60 days in advance. The victim women will be entitled to get maintenance under the law. And, the children born out of such marriages would be entitled to inherit the fathers’ properties.

Ordinance notified on Jan 9

Ministry of Home Affairs of Madhya Pradesh on January 9 had notified the MP Freedom of Religion Ordinance, 2020, in the State Gazette, thus bringing the law into effect.

The Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in the state has tightened its legal grip against the alleged incidents of ‘love jihad’ that the saffron camp has been especially vocally about in the recent months.

It reads: “An Ordinance to provide freedom of religion by prohibiting conversion from one religion to another by misrepresentation, allurement, use of threat or force, undue influence, coercion, marriage or any fraudulent means and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.”

The ordinance further noted that the state legislature is not in session, and therefore the Governor of Madhya Pradesh, Anandiben Patel, is satisfied that “circumstances exist which render it necessary to take immediate action.”

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