A plea challenging the Uttar Pradesh government’s ordinance criminalising religious conversion via marriage was filed before the Supreme Court on Thursday, reported Bar and Bench. The petition, filed by lawyers Vishal Thakre and Abhay Singh Yadav and law researcher Pranvesh, said the ordinance was against public policy and fundamental rights of the people.

The petitioners contended that the ordinance will be misused to falsely implicate people and will lead to chaos and fear. “This ordinance can become a potent tool in the hands of bad elements of the society to falsely implicate anyone and there are probabilities of falsely implicating persons who are not involved in any such acts [contemplated under the ordinance] and it will result in grave injustice,” read the petition. The petitioners also questioned the validity of a similar law passed by the Uttarakhand government in 2018.

The ordinance was promulgated by Uttar Pradesh Governor Anandiben Patel on November 28, days after it was passed by the Adityanath-led state Cabinet. Hours later, the police registered their first case against a Muslim man in the state’s Bareilly district. The accused Owais Ahmad was arrested on Wednesday and sent to 14 days judicial custody.

State Cabinet Minister Siddharth Nath Singh had said that the ordinance provides for a jail term of 1 to 5 years with a penalty of Rs 15,000 for forceful religious conversion. For conversions of minors and women of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes community, there will be jail term of 3 to 10 years with a Rs 25,000 penalty. In cases of forced mass conversions, the ordinance has provisions for a jail term of 3 to 10 years with a Rs 50,000 fine. Further, according to the new law, if an individual wants to marry after converting to any other religion, they will need to take permission from the district magistrate two months before the wedding.

“Love jihad” is a conspiracy theory used by right-wing groups who accuse Muslim men of using marriage as a lure to force Hindu women to convert to Islam. Apart from Uttar Pradesh, four other BJP-ruled states have also decided to introduce laws aimed at preventing inter-faith marriage.

The Centre, however, had told the Lok Sabha in February that no “case of ‘love jihad’ has been reported by any of the central agencies”. Investigations by the National Investigation Agency, the Karnataka Criminal Investigation Department, the Uttar Pradesh Special Investigation Team and others have turned up no evidence for this alleged conspiracy. The National Commission for Women maintains no data about “love jihad” too.

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