UP’s ordinance against so-called ‘love jihad’ is prone to misuse, can become a tool of harassment

By: |
November 26, 2020 7:30 AM

Not only does this bring in arbitrariness—what will be acceptable as proof, what extent of ‘proof’ would be deemed enough?—it also vitiates against the principles of personal liberty.

Religious conversion in violation of this law would be considered null and void

The Uttar Pradesh government has brought an ordinance to stop ‘forced’ conversions, including conversion because of marriage, against the backdrop of a division bench of the Allahabad High Court having overturned two single-judge orders that made conversion solely for the purpose of marriage illegal. The law’s defenders (chiefly from the BJP) claim that this will stop ‘love jihad’—an alleged strategy of using interfaith marriages to promote conversions. The provisions of the new law, though, also criminalise mass conversions in a state that has a significant SC population, where many Dalits have converted in the past to, among other religions, Buddhism.

The Allahabad HC had termed the single bench order ‘not good in law’ and had insisted interfaith marriages are a matter of free will and choice. Many legal experts also believe the law won’t stand the test of constitutionality, especially when weighed against the provisions Article 21. That apart, the problem is that such a broad-sweep law is prone to misuse. The fact that the law puts the onus on the married couple to prove that the purpose of conversion, if this took place, wasn’t marriage—else, the marriage can be declared null and void—is rather draconian.

Not only does this bring in arbitrariness—what will be acceptable as proof, what extent of ‘proof’ would be deemed enough?—it also vitiates against the principles of personal liberty. The law also requires interfaith couples to seek permission from the district administration two months before the wedding; even the Special Marriage Act (SMA) doesn’t have such a long notification period. Notification periods, as has been the case with the SMA, are often used to inform family and community members, who then pressurise couples to split.

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