A nationwide law to ban religious conversions or interfaith marriages is not being planned since it falls under the dominion of states, the central government said in parliament on Tuesday, amid a renewed drive for such legislation in several BJP-ruled states.
“Public order and police are state subjects as per the seventh schedule to the constitution of India. Hence prevention, detection, registration, investigation and prosecution of offences related to religious conversions are primarily the concerns of the state governments and union territory administrations. Action is taken as per existing laws by the law enforcing agencies whenever instances of violation come to notice,” Minister of State in the Ministry of Home Affairs G Kishan Reddy said.
The minister’s statement was in response to questions raised by five Congress MPs from Kerala who had asked whether the government believed that forced conversions were taking place because of interfaith marriages and details of any laws planned to curb them.
The questions came in the wake of widely-criticised laws that target interfaith marriages enacted by Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh – both ruled by the BJP. Several other states governed by the party including Haryana, Assam and Karnataka have also announced plans for such laws.
BJP politicians in these states, such as Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, have come out with increasingly divisive comments against “Love Jihad” – the right-wing conspiracy theory that Muslim men seduce Hindu women to have them convert their religion.
These new laws, which have clauses like needing a judge to sign-off on a planned conversion months before marriage, are in addition to existing legislation against religious conversions drawn up in multiple states over the past five decades starting with Odisha in 1967, then under Congress rule.
In one of the cases that demonstrate the egregiousness of these laws, an 18-year-old Muslim boy was arrested and has been in jail for over a month in Uttar Pradesh’s Bijnor, after he was accosted by right-wing activists while walking home from a birthday party with a 16-year-old Hindu girl.
Eminent jurists and human-rights experts have spoken out against these laws, warning they allow unencumbered persecution of minorities, and the Supreme Court last month agreed to examine the constitutional validity of the ones in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.