The Indian state of Madhya Pradesh adopted new anti-conversion provisions into state law with the passing of the Freedom of Religion Bill on 8 March, which brings into law the provisions of an earlier anti-conversion ordinance.
The move comes after similar legislation was passed by the Legislative Assembly of Uttar Pradesh State in February, and as the state of Gujarat also looks set to introduce its own anti-conversion bill.
The Madhya Pradesh bill follows the introduction of an anti-conversion ordinance, which was signed off by the state governor in January.
While the ordinance lasts for only six months without the approval of the Legislative Assembly, the act makes the provisions of the ordinance a permanent part of state law.
Penalties brought in with the provisions include a prison term of three to ten years and fines of between 25,000 and 50,000 rupees (£250-£500; $340-$680; €290-€580), with larger fines for people convicted of using marriage as a means of conversion. Anyone who wishes to officially change religion, along with religious officiates (such as pastors) performing the conversion, will be required to apply to the district administration 60 days in advance.
Some critics say anti-conversion legislation is designed to curb the so-called “Love-Jihad” operations of Muslim organisations who lure non-Muslim girls into marriage with Muslim men, which obliges the brides to convert to Islam in accordance with sharia (Islamic law).
Anti-conversion laws that prohibit conversions using force, allurement or fraud are already in place in nine of India’s 29 states. The existence of these laws makes Christians actively sharing their faith vulnerable to false accusation. The Indian government, however, stated in February that it has no plans to implement a nationwide anti-conversion law.