New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday (January 6) refused to stay the provisions of an Uttar Pradesh Ordinance and a Uttarakhand law, brought to checking unlawful religious conversions for inter-faith marriages. The apex court, however, issued notice to the two-state governments and sought a response within four weeks.
The top court bench headed by Chief Justice SA Bobde agreed to examine the validity of legislations, `The Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion Of Religion Ordinance, 2020` and the `Uttarakhand Freedom Of Religion Act, 2018`. The bench also comprising Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian replied that it would have been ideal if the petitioners had moved the respective High Courts instead of coming to the apex court.
The Chief Justice said the challenge to the law is already pending in High Courts and asked the petitioners to go there. The bench observed, “We are not saying you have a bad case, but approach the High Court in the first instance, instead of coming here.”
Representing one of the petitioners, senior advocate CU Singh submitted that it is obnoxious to put the burden of proof on the married couple to establish that the motivation for the marriage is not conversion, citing that several incidents have come on record where mobs have disrupted inter-faith marriages and also cited the severe punishment under these laws.
Another counsel for a petitioner cited that similar legislation is on the way in Madhya Pradesh and Haryana. Singh alleged that several innocent persons had been arrested based on UP Ordinance against `love jihad`, citing that the offence under this law has a sentence of up to 10 years and it is also a non-bailable offence.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta submitted that the Allahabad High Court is already seized of the matter.
The bench observed that the petitioners were asking for a relief which we cannot be entertained under Article 32. “Whether a provision is arbitrary or oppressive needs to be seen. This is the problem when you come directly to the Supreme Court”, said the Chief Justice.
The pleas, filed by advocate Vishal Thakre and others and an NGO ‘Citizen for Justice and Peace’, have challenged the constitutional validity of the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion Ordinance, 2020 and the Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion Act, 2018 which regulate religious conversions of inter-faith marriages.
The petitioners contended that Parliament has no power to amend the fundamental rights, and if this ordinance is implemented it will harm the public at large and will create a chaotic situation in the society.
The plea said, “It is also pertinent to mention herein that the ordinance is passed by the state government/s of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand is against the provisions Special Marriage Act, 1954 and it will create fear in the society who is/are not part of Love Jihad they can be falsely implicated in the ordinance.”
“This ordinance can become a potent tool in the hands of bad elements of the society to use this ordinance to falsely implicate anyone in this ordinance and there are probabilities of falsely implicating persons who are not involved in any such acts and it will be a grave injustice if this ordinance is passed,” the plea added.
Notably, the Uttar Pradesh Ordinance was cleared by the state Cabinet in November, and the ascent was given by Governor Anandiben Patel on November 28. The Ordinance relates not only to inter-faith marriages but all religious conversions and lays down elaborate procedures for those who wish to convert to another religion.
Similarly, the Uttarakhand Act entails a two-year jail term for those found guilty of religious conversion through force or ‘allurement’, which can be in cash or in-kind –employment or material benefit.
(With Agency Inputs)