The Supreme Court on Wednesday refused to stay laws enacted by Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand to punish marriages based on religious conversion. It, however, issued notices to the two state governments on petitions challenging the love jihad ordinance in Uttar Pradesh and Freedom of Religion Act, 2018 in Uttarakhand.
The three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) SA Bobde also issued a notice to the Centre on the petitions filed by advocate Vishal Thakre and Teesta Setalvad’s NGO Citizens for Justice and Peace. The petitioners have argued that the laws were being misused to harass individuals indulging in interfaith marriages.
The first PIL filed by advocates Vishal Thakre and Abhay Singh Yadav and law researcher Pranvesh, based in Allahabad, said, “The Ordinance passed by the State of Uttar Pradesh and law passed by Uttarakhand are against the public policy and society at large and violates basic structure of the Constitution,” It pointed out that a similar legislation is being contemplated Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Haryana and Assam.
The Uttar Pradesh ordinance titled “Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020”, which was promulgated on November 24, outlaws religious conversions by marriage, coercion, deceit or enticement. The law prescribes a jail term varying between one to five years, in addition to fines of up to Rs 15,000 for those convicted under it. The jail term goes up to 10 years and fine up to Rs 25,000 for conversions of women belonging to scheduled caste or scheduled tribe communities or who are minors.
The law was promulgated about a month after Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath vowed to end “love jihad”, a term used by right-wing activists to describe marital relationships between Muslim men and Hindu women.
“This ordinance can become a potent tool in the hands of bad elements of the society to… falsely implicate anyone…there are probabilities to falsely implicate persons who are not involved in any such acts and it will be a grave injustice if this ordinance is passed,” said the petition.
Senior advocate CU Singh who appeared for Setalvad’s NGO sought a stay on the UP ordinance, saying “Rampaging mobs are moving around lifting people from marriage ceremonies. This law requires prior reporting of marriages and the burden of proof is on the individual to show that he has not converted for marriage. These provisions are obnoxious particularly when the Supreme Court in 2018 held that the state cannot interfere with an individual’s right to marry as held in Shafin Jahan case.”
The bench, also comprising Justice’s AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian said, “Can a law be stayed if prosecution is oppressive or false. This is the problem when you come directly to the Supreme Court.”
While initially taking up the case, the bench was of view that the matter should go to the high court. Similar challenge is pending before Allahabad and Uttarakhand high courts. Howverm Singh told the apex court that it’s not just a matter concerning these states as a similar law had also been passed by Himachal Pradesh in 2019.
The matter has been posted for four weeks later.