THE PRIEST in Madhya Pradesh who will conduct conversion ceremony or is directly or indirectly associated with it will have to undergo imprisonment up to one year or pay fine up to Rs 5,000 or both for failing to inform the district magistrate within a month in the prescribed proforma stating the name and address of the converted along with the date and venue of conversion.
This is one of the main provisions of the bill tabled in the State Assembly today seeking amendment in the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 1968.
The bill, presented by Minister of State for Home Nagendra Singh, provides for making it mandatory for individuals intending to convert as also the priest conducting the conversion ceremony to inform the district magistrate.
The individual concerned will have to pay fine up to Rs 1,000 if he fails to inform in advance through a declaration to the district magistrate or empowered executive magistrate about his/her intention to voluntarily convert from one religion to another.
According to official sources, an amendment in the 1968 Act was considered necessary because it does not provide for advance information about conversion in order to prevent any such act violating the law, though the Act prohibited conversion through force, inducement or cheating.
The amendment is being made in the wake of reports about conversions of tribals, mainly to Christianity and frequent confrontation between missionaries and Hindu activists at many places.
The conversion issue was in sharp focus recently when Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan strongly objected to the visit of a team of the National Minorities Commission to Madhya Pradesh following complaints of harassment of Christians by militant Hindu outfits in places like Jabalpur, Indore, Hoshangabad and Betul.
Harchanran Singh Josh, a member of the Commission, even assured the Christian community delegations that he would urge the Prime Minister Office (PMO) to institute a judicial probe into the complaints of harassment. A bill on similar lines adopted by the Rajasthan Assembly early this year came in for severe criticism with missionaries and other secular leaders targetting the BJP Government.