• The debate over regulation of conversion of religion has been going on since ages and the theory of ‘love jihad' has attracted a lot of controversy.
• The Uttarakhand government's Act of 2018 (The Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion Act) and the UP-government's ordinance (The Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance) which has been passed recently aiming to curb ‘forced religious conversions' have brought into light the laws relating to conversion of religion prevalent in India and their validity.
Marriage is primarily a social institution and considered sacrosanct in India. Inter-faith marriages are not very prevalent in our country and are generally opposed by vast majority of the population. A theory, popularly known as ‘love jihad' or ‘romeo jihad' revolves around marriage between Muslim men and Hindu women whereby the Muslim men lure women into marriage and force them to convert their religion to Islam.
In 1977, in the case of Rev Stanislaus vs. State Of Madhya Pradesh, the Supreme Court held that, 'What is freedom for one is freedom for the other in equal measure, and there can therefore be no such thing as a fundamental right to convert any person to one's own religion.'
Recently, the passage of The Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance 2020 has lighted up a debate on ‘love jihad' and conversion of religion for the purpose of marriage.
2. Anti-Conversion laws in India
The Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance 2020 is not the first of its kind in India and a few anti-conversion laws have been in existence since the late 1960s.
• The state of Odisha was the first state in the country to enact a law against religious conversion. In 1967, The Orissa Freedom of Religion Act was passed which states that, 'no person shall convert or attempt to convert, either directly or otherwise, any person from one religions faith to another by the use of force or by inducement or by any fraudulent means nor shall any person abet any such conversion.'
• The state of Madhya Pradesh followed suit and enacted The M.P. Dharma Swatantrya Adhiniyam in the year 1968 which states that, 'no person shall convert or attempt to convert, either directly or otherwise, any person from one religious faith to another by the use of force or by allurement or by any fraudulent means nor shall any person abet any such conversion.'
• The state of Arunachal Pradesh passed The Arunachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act in 1978 which has similar provisions. In 2018, there were talks about the said act being scrapped by the Pema Khandu government but the act is still in existence.
• The state of Chhattisgarh retained the Madhya Pradesh government's anti-conversion bill after being carved out from Madhya Pradesh in the year 2000 and later on passed the Chhattisgarh Religion Freedom (Amendment) Act, 2006 which is still awaiting assent.
• The Tamil Nadu government enacted the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Forcible Conversion Act in the year 2002 but was later repealed in the year 2004.
• The state of Gujarat enacted the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act, 2003 which was later amended and Gujarat Freedom of
Religion (Amendment) Act,2006 came into existence.
• The Himachal Pradesh government passed The Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act in the year 2006 which was later amended in the year 2019 which added the following provision to the act, 'Any marriage done for the sole purpose of conversion by a person of one religion with a person of another religion either by converting himself before or after marriage or by converting the other person before or after marriage may be declared null and void by the family court.'
• The state of Rajasthan enacted the Rajasthan Freedom of Religion Bill in 2006 but the bill was returned by the centre.
• The state of Jharkhand passed Jharkhand Freedom of Religion Act, 2017 which is similar to the legislations enacted by the Odisha and the MP government.
• The state of Uttarakhand passed The Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion Act in the year 2018 and very recently the Uttar Pradesh government passed The Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance 2020. Both the Act and the Ordinance penalise forced conversion for marriage.
3. Recent Developments
The passage of the Uttar Pradesh government's conversion ordinance has sparked a debate on its validity.
• A petition has been filed by an NGO- Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) against the Uttarakhand Government's Act and the Uttar Pradesh Government's Ordinance regulating religious conversions contending that they are violative of Article 21 and 25 of the constitution of India and are also antiethical to the rights guaranteed under Article 14,15 and 16.
• The petitioner has contended that the said laws suppress an individual's personal liberty and are in contravention of the right to practice religion of one's own choice which are guaranteed under the constitution.
• The petitioner has also contended that, 'The Act and the ordinance allow for unnecessary intrusion into the lives of people who have their autonomy compromised by the State.'
• Two PILs have already been filed earlier, one before the Supreme Court challenging the validity of these laws and the other before the Allahabad High Court challenging the Uttar Pradesh government's ordinance.
The topic of religion has always been very sensitive in a country like India where people from different religious backgrounds reside together. In today's world, interfaith marriages are more prevalent than before as there has been a shift in the mindset of the people with the passage of time. The consenting adults in an interfaith marriage will now have to bear with conditions like filing a declaration before the District Magistrate at least 60 days in advance and an enquiry into the ‘real intention, purpose and cause' for religious conversion. Converting religion is a matter of personal choice and intrinsic to an individual's personality and the said laws might lead to some people with genuine intentions fearing to convert their religion.