Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar (File Photo)

Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar Monday said the final draft of a proposed law to stop forced religious conversions in the state will be prepared soon.

While responding to queries at Chandigarh Press Club during a press conference on completion of BJP’s 2,500 days in Haryana government, Khattar said, “Law is enacted to create a deterrent for people when they start doing something wrong. Such incidents [of ‘love jihad’] have started taking place in a few places of Haryana.”

He added, “Till the time these were not happening, or when there were only one or two such incidents, there was no requirement of such a law in this regard. But now several incidents of forced religious conversion by way of coercion and allurements have come to light. To prevent such incidents from happening, such laws are required. By way of example, I can say this is why we passed the anti-copying Bill. Laws are required to prevent any of these incidents from increasing in number.”

Khattar further said that the law in question will be implemented in the state. “What I have learnt from the state home minister [Anil Vij] is that the team constituted for studying the aspects of such a law is doing its job. Very soon, a draft will be prepared. We shall see if we need to bring in an Ordinance or introduce it in the next Vidhan Sabha session. We are considering these possibilities. It will also be sent to the Legal Remembrancer who will examine it. It is in process. The law shall be enacted.”

Since last year, Vij has been saying that the Freedom of Religion Bill or anti-conversion bill will be introduced in the Vidhan Sabha. In November, 2020, a committee comprising IAS officer TL Satyaprakash, IPS officer Navdeep Virk and Additional Advocate General Deepak Manchanda was constituted to study the issue.

Vij had said that the committee would study similar laws which have been enacted by other states.

“Love jihad” is a term coined by Hindutva groups to refer to cases of Hindu girls being allegedly forced to convert to Islam in the guise of marriage.

On November 6, Vij had also told the Vidhan Sabha that the government was deliberating on enacting a law to check forced religious conversions. Vij made the announcement while speaking on the murder of a young Faridabad woman by her alleged stalker.

In June, 2020, Khattar, too, had said that the state government has decided that a Right to Freedom of Religion Bill will be passed to stop forced conversions.

It was in March, 2021 when the state government had first attempted to introduce this Bill in the Vidhan Sabha. However, it had hit a legal hurdle because of certain concerns raised by the office of the Legal Remembrancer (LR).

The LR’s office, that was tasked with the legal vetting of the draft Bill, had said that the proposed legislation was in violation of the constitutional scheme of private liberty and privacy of an individual. It was also a violation of the fundamental duties enshrined under Article 51 of the Constitution and the provisions of Special Marriage Act, it added.

The LR’s office had also said that the draft of the Bill also contained contradictory and legally weak provisions.

However, Advocate General Baldev Raj Mahajan, in reply to the issues raised, had said that the Bill could be tabled in the Assembly. But this was not done due to certain concerns that remained unanswered at that time.

The LR’s office had also objected to the draft of the Bill which provided that return of any person to his ancestral religion will not be deemed to be conversion. On this provision, it had said that the proposed legislation expressed bias and arbitrariness, and the provision was most likely not to withstand legal scrutiny.

Among the other provisions in the draft Bill that the LR’s office had objected to was shifting the burden of proof upon the accused to prove that conversion was not fraudulent. It said this was against the spirit of fundamental premises of Indian Jurisprudence and Evidence Act. Moreover, the Bill proposed allowing people to lodge complaints, by leave of court, even in case of religious conversion of an adult. The LR’s office stated that this was “bad legal sense”.

This story first appeared on indianexpress.com