By Saurabh Sharma
LUCKNOW, India, December 29 (Reuters) – Lawmakers in a central Indian state controlled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party on Tuesday approved a law that would pressure a woman to convert to her husband’s religion a crime punishable by imprisonment.
Although no religion is specified in the legislation, critics say it targets the country’s Muslim minority. Die-hard Hindu groups accused Muslim men of leading a campaign dubbed “Love Jihad” to lure Hindu women to Islam by promising them to marry.
The Religious Freedom Bill, 2020 will be enacted in Madhya Pradesh once it receives approval from the state governor, a leader of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
“This law will prevent innocent girls from being forcibly converted under the pretext of marriage,” said Narottam Mishra, Minister of the Interior in the government led by the BJP.
Virtually identical legislation was passed last month in neighboring 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 forcing women to change their religion after marriage.
Other Indian states – Haryana, Karnataka and Assam – have said they plan to pass similar anti-conversion laws.
Under the new law, a man and woman of different religions will have to give the district magistrate at least two months’ notice before marrying and they will be given permission if there is no objection.
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.
(Written by Rupam Jain, edited by Simon Cameron-Moore)