The Supreme Court on Wednesday (January 6) said it will consider several petitions that challenge the constitutional validity of ‘love Jihad laws’ that prohibit “unlawful” religious conversion on the grounds of marriage in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
A bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde and comprising Justices V Ramasubramanian and AS Bopanna said they will hear the petitions filed by Vishal Thakre & others and activist Teesta Setalvad’s NGO ‘Citizens for Justice and Peace’ (CJP). The bench, however, refused to stay the provisions of the laws which seek prior permission for religious conversions for marriage.
The Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance 2020 was promulgated by Uttar Pradesh on November 27, 2020. The ordinance prohibits unlawful religious conversion on the grounds of marriage. The unlawful religious conversion laws have come under criticism for targeting one community, as they claims to combat ‘love jihad’ — a belief that Muslim men convert Hindu women on the pretext of marriage. Some cases in Uttar Pradesh show the law has been misused. Critics say ‘love jihad’ is fictional.
Advocates Vishal Thakre, Abhay Singh Yadav and Pranvesh, a law researcher, argue the laws not only curtail fundamental rights but also disturb the “basic structure of the Constitution”. They add that the ordinance is in contravention to the provisions of Special Marriage Act, 1954, and it will “create fear in society” as there is possibility of a person being falsely implicated. The plea requests the court to direct the states “not to give effect to impugned provisions/ordinance and withdraw the same or in the alternative modify the said bill”.
The CJP’s plea says provisions of the Act and Ordinance violate Article 21 of the Constitution. It adds that the state might use it to deny individual liberty. “The Act and Ordinance seemed to be premised on conspiracy theories and assume that all conversions are illegally forced upon individuals who may have attained the age of majority,” the plea further states.
The two laws, the CJP’s plea says, “are unconstitutional as both attempt to control the life of the residents of Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh and to not allow them to take charge of the significant decisions in their life”. Article 25 of the Constitution provides the right to converting to another religion but the ordinance and the Act “impinge upon this right by imposing unreasonable and discriminatory restrictions,” it said
Critics argue that the laws are patriarchal in that they undermine the right of women to choose.
The Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance 2020 and the Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion Act, 2018 prohibit forceful prohibition of conversion for the sake of marriage. While Madhya Pradesh awaits the governor’s nod on the anti-love jihad law, the Haryana government said it is considering a similar law.