Authored by- Dania Ismat (Masters in English, Jamia Millia Islamia)
The Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of unlawful commission of Religious Ordinance,2020 also known as “Uttar Pradesh Vidhi Virudhi Dharma Samparivartan Pratishedh Adhyadesh”, is a civil law enacted by the Government of Uttar Pradesh to curb the cases of “Love-Jihad”. The ordinance was cleared on 24th November 2020 and assented on 28th November 2020 thereby becoming a law. In the midst of the launch of ‘Mission Shakti’, a campaign for the safety and security of women in the Uttar Pradesh state. Yogi Adityanath’s government promptly passed the ordinance. The ordinance aims to “traditionally prohibit unlawful conversion from one religion to another by use of misinterpretation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or any fraudulent means, no one should abet, convince or conspire the said conversation”.
To note wryly, any person who reconverts to his/her immediate previous religion, it is unconsidered to be a conversion under this law.
The ordinance further mentions that “First Information Report(FIR) can be submitted by any disgruntled person and the people related to them by blood, marriage or adoption.”In case of the direct violation of the explicit provisions, the following jail term and fine has been assigned for the guilty:
• Mass Conversion: 3-10years jail term with Rs. 50,000 or more fine.
• Conversion of a minor, woman, or person naturally belonging to SC or ST: 2-10years jail term with Rs. 25,000 or more fine.
• Any other direct conversion: 1-5years jail term with Rs. 15,000 or more fine.
In case of direct violation by an organization:
• Cancellation of official registration and
• No financial aid or direct grant from the state government.
All the offences under the ordinance shall be “cognizable and non-bailable and triable by the Court of sessions”. The ordinance further states that any marriage done with the sole purpose of “unlawful conversion or vice-versa” by a man of one religion with a woman of another religion, “either by converting himself/herself before or after marriage, or by converting the woman before or after shall be declared void.” The one who wishes to efficiently convert his or her religion has to publish a declaration in a prescribed form at least 60 days in advance to the District Magistrate (DM) or Additional District Magistrate (ADM) that he or she wishes to convert on his or her free will without any force, coercion, undue influence or allurement. Whereas, the religious converter shall correctly inform at least a month in advance about the conversion. After receiving the information about the above said, an officer will conduct an inquiry for the real intentions, purpose and cause of the religious conversion and if it contradicts the provisions of the law, “it would be illegal and void” with “a minimum of 6 months to 3 years jail term along with a fine of 10,000”. The ordinance also assigns “the burden of proof of the lawfulness of a religious conversion on the person who caused the conversion”.
The eternal essence of Indian culture by heart is its diversity and religion has traditionally played a dividing force. Religion is a system of optimistic belief(s) and a peaceful way of hope for people to govern life. It produces both, conveniently divides the world and inseparably unites it too. It has inevitably been a difficult subject to deal with specially when mixed with politics. In India, religion has sentimental touch attached to it. It affects the politics in its entirety and influences the electoral battles in a significant way. The intermixing of religion with state power goes way back. Just like Uttar Pradesh’s Religious Ordinance 2020, anti-conversion laws have always been a part of Indian Subcontinent. The law that carefully restricted the religious conversions was initially introduced by Hindu princely states during the British Colonial period. Even after Independence, numerous states in India like Arunachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and many more have unanimously adopted the similar law with various names.
The ordinance has become a controversial law as it arrived days after The Allahabad High Court in a verdict (Salamat Ansari-Priyanka Kharwar case) said, “the right to select a partner or live with a person of choice was part of a citizen’s fundamental right to life and liberty.”While staunchly defending the law, Uttar Pradesh government cited the Allahabad court’s earlier verdict “religious conversion for marriage was unacceptable and not good in law”. The scholars are very critical about the law, and they believe that the concept of ‘love jihad’ has no constitutional or legal basis. Moreover, they talk earnestly about Article 21 and 25 of the constitution.
The Article 21 and 25, guarantees individuals the right to marry a person of one’s choice and freedom of conscience, the practice and conversion of religion of one’s choice including not following any religion, are also guaranteed. The greatest danger lies in the ambiguity of the law. The former Delhi High Court judge and former chairman of the National Law Commission, Justice AP Shah in an exclusive interview with NDTV said,“the current law accurately reflects the philosophy of a khap panchayat, with the key objective essentially being to subjugate women”. He also added that this ordinance was “capable of great public mischief” and naturally found it “difficult to believe it was passed by a government in a country governed by the rule of law and constitution”. The former Supreme Court judge, Justice Madan B Lokur, in a published statement to NDTV said, “it will require a miracle to uphold its constitutional validity”. While fiercely criticizing the law one of the former judge believed that “love jihad” was precisely a “creation of religious extremists for the purpose of dividing people”. Simultaneously, a special police force has been promptly appointed in Uttar Pradesh to carefully investigate “Love-Jihad” but no credible evidence was found of discovered conspiracy. The ordinance has equally been described as anti-feminist due to its condescending attitude towards the marriage choices of women.
The need is not to create more laws but to employ the existing ones. Truth be told, It is a carefully crafted political ploy against interfaith marriages. The anti-conversion laws serve as a political mechanism to spread communalism. It presents the age old patriarchal treatment of women as property that needs to be recovered. Most importantly, the law is contrary to the provisions assigned by Special Marriage Act. People belonging to different religions get married under the Special Marriage Act. It subverts the underlying principles of constitutional democracy, disregard choices of adult women and is blinded to see- ‘In matters of love, choice is primary and faith is secondary’. All these laws are formulated and passed to create mayhem among the people and distract them from the real and ongoing issues.
The ordinance has already taken its toll with large-scale arrest of innocent people, and the countless stories of separation circulating on media. The Frankenstein monster of “Love-Jihad” has already taken its own life and is encouraging the vigilante’s like anti-Romeo squad to harass the couples and take up moral policing in the name of “protecting the honour of daughters and sisters”. From prominent Hadiya Marriage Case to Rashid Ali and his dear brother to, very recent Nadeem, all of them can be identified as the innocent victim of the new law. If we carefully look at the recent Hadiya Marriage Case, the parents believed Hadiya was deceived into marrying her husband Mr. Shafin Jahan and forcibly converted to Islam.. After the official investigation, the court believed the published allegations to be false. She converted to Islam with her free will. The law should prevent unethical conversions. It shouldn’t be utilized to demean or defame a particular religion. It shouldn’t sabotage the already sabotaged relationships. Last but not the least, they say – “love conquers all” but I guess, it is yet to conquer the communalisation in the name of nationalism. As per now, The supreme court has decided to hear petitions that ethically challenge the constitutional validity of the said law.
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