The BJP government has defended the Haryana Prevention of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Bill, 2022, which largely addresses rightwing groups’ bogey of ‘love jihad’, passed by the state Assembly in March despite the Opposition Congress opposing it.
Congress lawmakers, led by Leader of Opposition Bhupinder Singh Hooda, questioned the need to enact a special anti-conversion law when there are provisions in the Indian Penal Code (IPC) to take action against forced conversions, which was basically aimed to fulfil the demand of the right-wings to prevent forced religious conversions which they named alove jihad’.
Justifying the passing of the Bill, Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar had said it was aimed at instilling fear among those who commit crimes.
A person can change religion as per his own free will, but it will not be allowed to happen to anyone forcibly, he had said. “Action will be taken against such people if they convert religion by deceit or by giving any kind of greed. The purpose of this Bill is to control forced religious conversion.”
Khattar had informed the Assembly that 127 first information reports (FIRs) for religious conversion were registered in the last four years. Most of the forced conversion cases were in five districts — Yamunanagar, Panipat, Gurugram, Palwal and Faridabad, all located in the National Capital Region (NCR).
While Congress leader and two-time Chief Minister Hooda had stressed the need for a new law, Khattar justified it by saying the anti-conversion law is more stringent.
With the passing of the Bill, now a law, Haryana became the 11th BJP-ruled state to bring such a law to penalise religious conversions by use of threat of force, coercion, marriage or by any other fraudulent means.
The Himachal Pradesh Assembly had passed a Bill in 2019 that has made forceful religious conversion a punishable offence.
Ahead of the passing of the Bill in the Haryana Assembly, the ruling coalition crucial partner, Jannayak Janta Party’s (JJP) Deputy Chief Minister Dushyant Chautala had protested the inclusion of the term ‘love jihad’.
“If someone is willing to convert on his own, there should not be a bar,” he had said.
This caused a jittery within the BJP with Home Minister Anil Vij declaring that the term would not be present in the Bill.
Last year an RTI (Right to Information) application by Panipat resident P.P. Kapoor revealed that four cases of ‘love jihad’ were registered in Ambala, Nuh and Panipat districts over the past three years.
The police have moved to cancel the FIRs in two of the cases and a third ended in an acquittal. The fourth case is in court, it says.
A senior police official told IANS on Saturday that no case of forced conversion has come to fore since the new law came into force.
Last year, while replying to a calling attention motion in the Assembly on the murder of a woman in Ballabhgarh, the Home Minister had said, “Anyone can marry anyone, anyone can fall in love with anyone. But if there is a conspiracy for changing religion by trapping someone in love, then it is very important to stop that conspiracy. We will take whatever steps are required.”
The demand to bring a stringent law to penalise religious conversions by use of threat had gained momentum with the gruesome broad daylight killing of 21-year-old Nikita Tomar outside her college in Ballabhgarh in Faridabad district in October 2020 that attained nationwide outrage.
She was shot dead at point-black range by her former classmate Tauseef outside Aggarwal College. The crime was caught on camera. The trial for this murder case began on December 1, 2020.
In less than four months, a fast-track court in Faridabad sentenced prime accused Tauseef and another accused Rehan for life and imposed a fine of Rs 20,000 on each.
The victim’s family had claimed that this was a case of alove jihad’ where the accused Tauseef pressured the victim to embrace Islam and marry him.
Following the crime, statewide protests erupted. Seeing the sensitivity of the crime, the Manohar Lal Khattar-led state government had constituted a five-member Special Investigating Team (SIT) to probe the incident.
The victim’s family said they had filed a police complaint against Touseef in 2018, but the matter was settled later.
Nikita’s father had said his daughter could have been saved if a law against ‘love jihad’ had been enacted earlier.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at email@example.com)