Lawmakers in a central Indian state controlled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) approved legislation on Tuesday that would make pressuring a woman to convert to her husband’s religion a crime punishable with imprisonment.
Although no religion is specified in the legislation, critics say it is aimed against the country’s Muslim minority. Hardline Hindu groups have accused Muslim men of waging a campaign, dubbed “Love Jihad”, to lure Hindu women to Islam with promises of marriage.
The Freedom of Religion Bill, 2020, will be enacted in Madhya Pradesh once it receives approval from the state’s governor, a BJP leader belonging to Modi’s BJP.
“This law will prevent innocent girls being forcefully converted on pretext of marriage,” said Narottam Mishra, home minister in the state’s BJP-led government.
Virtually identical legislation was passed last month in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh, a northern state also controlled by the BJP. Thirty Muslim men were arrested there earlier this month under the new law for allegedly compelling women to change their religion after getting married.
Other states – Haryana, Karnataka and Assam – have said that they are planning to bring in similar anti-conversion laws.
Under the new law, a man and woman belonging to different religions will have to give at least two months’ notice to the district magistrate before they get married and they will be given permission if there are no objections.
Politicians in Madhya Pradesh have also campaigned for years against Christian missionaries, accusing them of offering financial aid and free education to persuade people to convert to Christianity.