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Important provisions of Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religious Ordinance, 2020:

  • Law prohibits conversion from one religion to another by “misrepresentation, force, fraud, undue influence, coercion, allurement or marriage”.

  • Marriage will be declared “shunya” (null and void) if the “sole intention” was to “change a girl’s religion”

  • The persons forced the girl to change religious conversion may face jail term of up to 10 years if the girl is minor, a woman from the Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe, if the person involved religious conversion on mass scale. For the rest of the cases, the jail term ranges from 1 to 5 years.

  • The law also provides for the way to conversion. The person willing to convert to other religion would have to give it in writing to the District Magistrate at least two months in advance.

  • The burden to prove would be on the person who caused the conversion or the person who facilitated it. If any violation is found under this provision, then she/he will face a jail term from 6 months to 3 year

  • ·If any person reconverts to his immediate previous religion, then it shall not be deemed to be a violation of the ordinance.

Why Uttar Pradesh drafted such an ordinance?

  • In the past few months, cases of alleged “love jihad” have been reported from different parts of the state, especially eastern and central UP especially Lakhimpurkheri.

  • a group of parents from a particular locality in Kanpur had complained that their daughters are being allegedly trapped by Muslim men

  • In some cases, girls refused to accept that they were tempted into marriage.

Criticisms against the law

Many critics of the law have put forward a few issues regarding the law:

  • Allowing the police to examine subjective “intentions” of men and women entering a marriage veers into thought control — and sets the law up for rampant abuse.

  • Law against fundamental rights: By clearing the ordinance, the state government has trespassed the fundamental right to marry guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.

What is the term ‘Love Jihad’ or ‘Romeo Jihad’?:

  • The term itself is based on a conspiracy Theory. It simply means that the Islamic men target non-Islamic women for religious conversion by feigning their love.

  • This theory is completely unproven. The theory got national attention with the alleged conversions first in Kerala and later in Karnataka in 2009.

  • In 2010, the speech of then CM of Kerala creates widespread allegation (Source).

Anti-conversion law at central level:

Central government proposed various bills but none of them passed and became a law. They are:

  • Indian Conversion (Regulation and Registration) Bill 1954

  • Backward Communities (Religious Protection) Bill 1960

  • Freedom of Religion Bill in 1979

In 2015, the Law Ministry said passing of any law on religious conversion is purely a “State subject” and Central government has no role in it.

Is Uttar Pradesh being the only state to initiate law for forceful conversion?

  • No, after the central government failed to pass 1960 bill, Odisha government moved on and passed the first anti-conversion law in 1968

  • After that so far 10 states have had passed anti-conversion laws in India.

  • The Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2019, and the Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion Act, 2018, both prohibit conversion by misrepresentation, force, fraud, undue influence, inducement, allurement and ‘by marriage’.

But Uttar Pradesh has become one of the first State to pass forcible conversion only during Interfaith marriages as special legislation. States such as Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, and Karnataka have also sought to bring such legislation.

Interfaith Marriages:

  • It simply means the matrimonial relation between individuals who follow different religious faiths.

  • Marriage between the same faiths has been governed by the Hindu Marriage Act 1955, Muslim personal Law. But to rectify and include interfaith marriages Centre passed the Special Marriage Act 1954.

  • Special Marriage Act considers Interfaith Marriages as secular.

Few important provisions of the Special Marriage Act of 1954:

  • The law allows the solemnization of marriages without any religious customs or rituals. The law solemnizes marriages by the way of registration.

  • The consenting couple (Men above 21 years and women above 18 years) who were going to get married have to provide 30-day Notice at the Marriage Registrar’s office.

  • After 30 days they can get married. If there are any objections raised then the Marriage Registrar will investigate the objection

  • The Act is applicable to all Indian citizens and Indian nationals who live in abroad.

  • Allahabad High Court observed the Special Marriage Act as ‘one of the earliest endeavors towards Uniform Civil Code. (Source)

Judicial pronouncement regarding interfaith marriages and forcible conversions:

  • The Rev Stanislaus vs Madhya Pradesh case: Supreme Court said Article 25 does provide freedom of religion in matters related to practice, profess and propagate, but the word propagate does not give the right to convert and upheld the laws prohibiting Conversion through force, fraud, or allurement.

  • Based on the above case it is clear that forcible conversion or conversion through fraud and allurement is against the Right to Freedom of Religion.

  • Sarla Mudgal case: The court had held that the religious conversion into Islam by a person from non-Islamic faith is not valid if the conversion is done for the purpose of polygamy.

  • Lily Thomas case: In this case Court observed that marrying another woman after converting to Islam is punishable under the bigamy laws.

  • Hadiya Case: Supreme Court said that the right to marry a person of one’s choice is integral to Article 21 (right to life and liberty) of the Constitution

  • Allahabad High Court, in the case, Noor Jahan Begum @ Anjali Mishra and another vs. State of U.P. and Others observed that one shouldn’t change one’s faith just for the sake of matrimony. As two persons professing different religions can marry under the Special Marriage Act.

  • But in the most recent judgment, Allahabad High Court itself overturned its previous judgment, calling the decision “bad in law”. The division bench of the Allahabad high court said on November 11, that judgment does not take into account the right to life and personal liberty of mature adults.

Way forward:

Based on the judicial pronouncements it is clear that the Right to marry a person belongs to another faith is a Fundamental Right but that does not have to be associated only with personal laws or religious conversions. It is the Right of the individual’s personal liberty to involve in Interfaith Marriage either by the Special Marriage Act of 1954 or by Personal laws (after getting himself converted).

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