SC refuses to uphold laws against interfaith marriage, issues notices to UP, Uttarakhand
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court issued notices to the Center, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand about a petition challenging the respective state laws prohibiting and punishing religious conversion for marriage, deception, coercion or seduction.
The three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde issued the notices, but refused to suspend the two laws despite the petitioners’ arguments that the law was being misused to harass individuals who they married outside their religion.
The court was hearing two petitions, one from a group of lawyers and another from the NGO Citizens for Justice and Peace by social activist Teesta Setalvad.
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The people who submitted the first PIL are attorneys Vishal Thakre and Abhay Singh Yadav and Prayagraj-based law researcher Pranvesh. The petition read: “The ordinance passed by the state of Uttar Pradesh and the law passed by Uttarakhand go against public policy and society in general and violate the basic structure of the Constitution.” He noted that a similar law is being contemplated in Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Haryana and Assam.
The Uttar Pradesh ordinance entitled “Uttar Pradesh Illegal Conversion of Religion Prohibition Ordinance, 2020” prohibits religious conversions by marriage, coercion, deception or seduction.
It was enacted on November 24. The law prescribes a jail term ranging from one to five years, in addition to fines of up to 15,000 rupees for those convicted by law. The jail term is up to 10 years and a fine of up to Rs 25,000 for conversions of women who belong to registered caste or tribal communities or who are minors.
The law was enacted about a month after Uttar Pradesh Prime Minister Yogi Adityanath promised to end “love jihad,” a term used by right-wing activists to describe the marital relations between Muslim men and Hindu women.
“This ordinance can become a powerful tool in the hands of the evil elements of society to … falsely implicate anyone … there is a chance of falsely implicating people who are not involved in such acts and it would be a grave injustice if this Ordinance is approved, ”the petition said.
Top advocate CU Singh, who came forward for the Setalvad NGO, sought a suspension of the UP ordinance. “Unbridled mobs are on the move to get people out of the wedding ceremonies. This law requires prior notification of marriages and the burden of proof is on the individual to show that they have not been converted for marriage. These provisions are unpleasant, particularly when the Supreme Court in 2018 held that the state cannot interfere with people’s right to marry as upheld in the Shafin Jahan case. “
The Uttarakhand law, called the Freedom of Religion Law, was passed in 2018.
The court, also composed of judges AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian, said: “Can a law be suspended if the prosecution is oppressive or false? This is the problem when it comes directly to the Supreme Court ”.
Although it initially handled the case, the court was of the opinion that the matter should go to higher court. A similar challenge is pending before the Allahabad and Uttarakhand High Courts. But Singh told the Supreme Court that it was not just a matter related to these states, as Himachal Pradesh had also passed a similar law in 2019.