The petitioner challenging the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020 has submitted a reply to the State Government’s defense aimed at preventing any form of unlawful conversion actuated by elements of misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement, by marriage, etc.
According to LiveLaw, the petitioner has submitted, “If a person exercises the freedom under Article 25 of the Constitution to marry somebody of his or her choice, and in that process, one partner chooses to change their religion immediately prior to marriage, that should not be the matter of concern for the State of any social watchdogs.”
One of the petitioners, Advocate Saurabh Kumar, represented by Advocates Devesh Saxena, Shashwat Anand and Vishesh Rajvanshi, in his rejoinder affidavit has also stated the detrimental impacts on the Article 21 protection. It states, “The impugned Ordinance is nothing but legal sanction to the criminalisation of inter-faith marriages. It is a direct assault on Article 21 of the Constitution which guarantees personal liberty and the right to life.”
Referring to the Preamble of the impugned Ordinance, the petitioner said that the law equates marriage with misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement and fraudulent means. Amongst other things, it seeks to prohibit what it calls “unlawful conversion by marriage”.
The rejoinder reads, “The state’s concern about forcible conversions is understandable as it could involve several crimes, such as wrongful confinement, intimidation, kidnapping, assault, threat of divine displeasure etc. But the fact remains that there are enough laws on the statute book (Indian Penal Code) that are adequate to convict those accused of the crime or tackle coercive conversion.”
He has also objected to the proviso to Section 3 of the impugned ordinance in as much as it lays down that “reconversion” to a person’s previous religion is not illegal, even if it is vitiated by fraud, force, allurement, misrepresentation and so on. “Through this peculiar provision, the law seems to contradict its own vicious theories of forceful conversions and breach of public order”, his submission reads.
The affidavit by the petitioner also comes down heavily on the Ordinance as it is anti-women. “In the framing of the love jihad narrative, Hindu women are only gullible victims, who have been made to stray away from the fold of their clan and community. They are not consenting adults free to make their own choices — good or bad. It is an idea that feeds the need of all patriarchal societies to control ‘sisters and daughters’ — never independent women — and their sexuality”, it reads.
As the Uttar Pradesh Government, in its counter affidavit to the writ petition filed in the court had declared that “community interest is on a much higher pedestal than agreement of two individuals who enter into wedlock”, the petitioner has contended that this proposition overturns the spirit of the Constitution and implies that no two individuals can make a decision regarding their marriage partners without seeking the sanction of the community they are a part of.
The Government had also placed on record that the judgment Salamat Ansari and Ors vs State of Uttar Pradesh and Ors 2020 SCC Online All 1382 is not good law. Arguing the other way round, the petitioner has disagreed and submitted that judgment passed in Salamat Ansari case lays down a good law and is backed up by various judicial precedents and pronouncement of the Supreme Court, and it will wrong and misconceived to state that the said decision requires consideration.
LiveLaw reported that the rejoinder submitted by the petitioner questioned the Rev Stanislaus judgment that upheld the anti-conversion laws of Madhya Pradesh and Odisha. He has contended that the said case is different from the one at hand in as much as the two State acts were silent on inter-faith marriages and the Supreme Court too had not commented upon that.
The Uttar Pradesh Government had claimed in its affidavit that it is incorrect to label the impugned Ordinance as “Love-Jihad Ordinance” as it did not target any particular religion and was equally applicable to all forms of forced conversion, not just interfaith marriages.
The petitioner has however contended a scrutiny of the statistics submitted by the Government in court presents a different picture. Ever since the Ordinance came into effect on November 28, 86 people were booked and 79 of them are Muslims and all these 79 have been accused of similar offences — allegedly enticing a woman and forcing her to convert to Islam.
Further, he has submitted that the records show that the UP Police has registered 14 cases and made 51 arrests, of whom 49 are in jail. In all such cases, the women involved are adults.
The Allahabad High Court is set to hear the batch of pleas challenging the constitutional validity of the Ordinance today, on January 18.