The Allahabad High Court on Friday issued notices to the Uttar Pradesh government, asking it to file counter affidavits to a batch of petitions challenging the recently passed law aimed at preventing forced conversions for inter-faith marriages, reported Live Law. The court, however, refused to grant interim relief in the form of a stay order.

The bench of Justices Govind Mathur and Piyush Agrawal has asked the state government to file the affidavits by January 4, while the petitioners can file a rejoinder affidavit by January 6. The matter will be heard next on January 7.

The petitioners have submitted that the law impinges upon their fundamental rights and violates Article 14 (Right to Equality), 15 (Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, etc.), 21 (Right to life) and 25 (Freedom of conscience, etc) of the Constitution, according to Live Law. The petitions also state that there was no emergent ground to exercise Article 213 of the Constitution, under which a state government is empowered to introduce an ordinance, to bring forth a law.

The Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020, promulgated by Governor Anandiben Patel last month, is aimed at tackling “love jihad” – a conspiracy theory espoused by right-wing Hindutva activists, alleging that Hindu women are forcibly converted by Muslims through marriage. Just hours after the promulgation, Uttar Pradesh Police registered its first case under the new ordinance against a Muslim man in the state’s Bareilly district.

The law makes religious conversion a non-bailable offence, inviting penalties up to 10 years in prison if found to be guilty of using marriage to force someone to change religion. Violation of provisions of the law provides for a jail term of one to five 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 three to 10 years with a Rs 25,000 penalty. In cases of forced mass conversions, the ordinance has provisions for a jail term of three 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.

Apart from Uttar Pradesh, four other BJP-ruled states have also decided to introduce laws aimed at preventing inter-faith marriage.

The Madhya Pradesh government last month doubled the jail term for forced religious conversions for marriage from five years to 10 years in its draft bill against “love jihad”, while the Haryana government has formed a three-member drafting committee to frame a law on the matter. Karnataka and Assam governments have made similar announcements.

In February, the Centre told the Lok Sabha that no “case of ‘love jihad’ has been reported by any of the central agencies”.