NEW DELHI: The Uttar Pradesh government has strongly defended the anti-conversion law in its affidavit filed before the Allahabad High Court on Friday, October 25. It said that “since marriage is being used as an instrument to convert an individual’s religion against his/her will, the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Act, 2021 seeks to remedy the malady”.
The UP government passed the law, commonly referred to as the “love-jihad” law in February this year, following enacting the ordinance on the same subject in November 2020. The law prescribes a jail term up to 10 years and fine up to Rs. 50,000 for conversion under marriage, fraud, coercion or enticement.
The ordinance had come into force days after Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath promised to fight against “love jihad”, a term used by Hindu right-wing groups to describe relationships between Muslim men and Hindu women.
Several activists and legal experts have argued that the law could be used to target Muslims and infringe on the fundamental rights to equality, freedom of religion, and life and personal liberty.
But the state, in its affidavit filed on Friday before a bench led by justice Munishwar Nath Bhandari, maintained that although the 2021 law is on unlawful conversion and marriage is simply incidental, there are first information reports (FIRs) as well as a report of the Uttar Pradesh anti-terrorism squad to demonstrate that the social fabric in the state is threatened by a spurt in forcible conversions.
Following a direction of the high court, the affidavit of the state government was filed in response to the bunch of public interest litigations (PILs) challenging the said Act.
The government claimed that the law in challenge, seeks to protect public interest and maintain public order, and safeguards the interest of the community. “When there is fear psychosis in the community at large and the community itself is endangered and succumbs to the pressure resulting in forceful conversion, it becomes necessary that the interest of the community as a whole requires protection and no microanalysis of individual interest can be looked into,” the affidavit added.
The affidavit also asserts that the law is identical in nature to legislations that already exist in at least in eight states including Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Uttarakhand and Haryana. It further states that there is ample data in public record which shows that forcible conversions have created a fear across the entire state, which in turn has warranted the need for such a legislation.
Referring to the cases of a Hindu woman or a man wishing to marry a Muslim man or woman, the affidavit said: “Even though a Hindu woman wishes not to give up her faith, she will have to give up her faith in order to enter into a valid marriage and accept Islam as her faith. This will amount to forceful conversion. The position remains the same if a Hindu boy wants to marry a Muslim girl. Hindu boy will have to accept Islam.”
Calling this exercise a loss of dignity, the affidavit claimed that the conversion in such cases is not exercised as a choice but on account of compulsion due to personal law intervening.
It further submitted that the Act just gives the relatives the power to file an FIR in cases of forceful conversion and that the Act goes on to ensure that every individual is granted an equal moral membership in the society.
The government has also commented on the motives of the petitioners saying that they are motivated by social media propaganda of ‘ghar wapsi’ and have not focused on the legal issues. Therefore, they are misusing the process of law by filing the instant PIL and using the same as a tool for publicity.
According to Hindustan Times, the high court is expected to take up the matter on November 15 after the petitioners file their replies to the state government’s stand.-IANS