Uttar Pradesh on 24th November 2020, passed the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance 2020. This law at its end of the tunnel seeks to weed out dishonest religious conversions promoted by feigning love.
The law became applicable days after the Uttar Pradesh government approved a draft ordinance to curb dishonest or forced religious conversions, mentioning that giving false impressions of love and religious conversions just for the sake of marriage will be null and void.
WHAT THE ORDINANCE SAYS?
The basic constituents of the ordinance include:
- A marriage is void if the sole purpose of the marriage was a religious conversion by giving a false impression of love
- Such forced religious conversions will be punished with a fine of Rs. 15,000 and a jail term of one to five years.
- In case the party converted is a woman belonging to Scheduled Tribe or Scheduled Caste, the punishment is increased to a penalty of Rs. 25,000 and a jail term of three to ten years.
- Organizations conducting mass religious conversions through marriages are punishable with a fine of Rs. 50,000 and a jail term of three to ten years.
- This bill also provides provisions to allow religious conversion in inter-faith marriages without being questioned by this bill. The couple should submit an application to the District Magistrate, before two months of their marriage.
WHY IS THIS LAW CALLED BY THE MEDIA AS ANTI LOVE JIHAD LAW?
The media alleges that the UP government has brought this law into force to keep a check on Love Jihad in UP. Love Jihad in itself is an alleged activity, where Muslim youth entrap young women, belonging to other religions, in love and make them convert in order to marry. This is often considered as an organized and funded behaviour. Though such love jihad instances have been reported in history throughout the world, this has created a big social issue, wherein inter-faith couples truly in love are harassed by anti-love jihad vigilantes.
However, the UP government has never associated their proposed ordinance with love jihad. In fact, the state government issued an official note that clarifies the government’s stand regarding the new law: We have brought out an effective law to check conversion with some stringent punitive provisions against individuals and organizations if found to have indulged in conversion, through the manifestation of using force deceit by way of luring into marriage or any other improper manner.
ANTI CONVERSION LAWS IN PAST
Looking back, several state governments have passed similar laws in the name of Freedom of Religion Acts or Anti conversion laws. These laws and statutes are aimed to regulate involuntary religious conversions. Orissa was the first state to bring in the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act 1967, followed by Madhya Pradesh that has a Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 1968.
In the states of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Arunachal Pradesh, anti-conversion bills were enacted in 1978. In the years 2000, 2003, and 2006, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, and Himachal Pradesh passed their Freedom of Religion Act respectively. A similar bill was also passed by Rajasthan in 2006. The Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Forcible Conversion of Religion Act 2002 was adopted by Tamil Nadu but repealed in May 2004. In Jharkhand and Uttrakhand, the most recent legislation of a similar nature was passed in 2017.
It is remarkable to note here that in India, the trend for communalization of the topic of conversion is not recent and has been maintained over the past 50 years.
GLITCHES IN THE ORDINANCE
Indian law recognizes marriage as an extremely personal arena. The constitution guaranteed liberty and privacy includes the right to choose a partner. This bill has made such choice-making difficult.
Another focus point in this law is it restricts women’s agency based on their sexuality. It presumes women will be easily influenced to be converted. It treats women as property that has to be retrieved. Laws restricting a woman’s agency over her sexuality have been invalidated by the Supreme Court.
The burden of proof that the religious conversion after marriage was not forced is on the person who converted. So, with this ordinance in hand, if there is an inter-faith marriage, anyone like family members of the couple or the government or the anti-love jihad surveillance scan initiates a legal proceeding against the couple who are then left to fight the legal battle alone trying to prove the conversion wasn’t forced.
The next glitch is regarding the provision that allows religious conversions in inter-faith marriages, which are accepted and beyond the scope of this ordinance. The interlude of two months between submission of an application to District Magistrate and the marriage is enough time for the family or anti-inter faith marriage goons to intimidate the couple. The couple might be targeted and assaulted to end their relationship and give up on their marriage.
On the whole, even though the law doesn’t outrightly criminalize inter-faith marriages. It has for sure, discouraged such marriages. Given the conservativeness that runs through our Indian society, inter-faith marriages are frowned upon and often lead to honor killings. When such is the case, the law should make it easier for such couples to register and proceed with their marriage. That’s the reason why the Supreme Court held that declaration of religion while registering the marriage is non-essential. But this ordinance pulls down the right of choice and right to privacy of the individuals.
Such religious conversions through feigning love and marriage do happen in our society. But there are already enough grounds that invalidate marriages by coercion. If the wife feels she is coerced to convert, she can apply for divorce on the same grounds. For women coerced into marriages, Indian law grants legal relief, and the Code of Criminal procedure has punitive provisions to deal with the party that coerced. But this law will encourage harassment of inter-faith married couples. There is enough societal and family disapproval, at least let the lady justice protect them.
Sindhanaa Andavan (School of Excellence in Law, TNDALU, Chennai)
Mirudhula A (School of Excellence in Law, TNDALU, Chennai)
- Sahel Md Delabul Hossain, et al, ‘Love-Jihad’; Protection of Religious Proximity: An Indian Situation,2, Inr’l.J. of Human. and Cultural Studies, Issn 2356-5926,669, Mar.2016.