The Allahabad High Court on Friday stayed the arrest of a person from Uttar Pradesh’s Muzaffarnagar city under the state’s new anti-conversion law, reported The Indian Express. The court noted that the couple involved were adults with “a fundamental right to privacy”.
Nadeem, 32, and his brother Salman, were named in a complaint filed in the matter by Akshay Kumar Tyagi, the woman’s husband, reported NDTV. They were among the first people to be booked under the new law. Tyagi accused Nadeem of wanting to marry his wife and coercing her to convert her religion. He alleged that Nadeem used to frequent his house, and had gifted his wife a smartphone to woo her.
Following the complaint, Nadeem was booked under various charges, including Sections 3/5 of the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020. The law, which was passed last month by the Adityanath government, 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.
Nadeem had, however, not been arrested in the case, and had filed a petition to scrap the first information report naming him.
While hearing the petition on Friday, a bench of Justices Pankaj Naqvi and Vivek Agarwal noted that the woman concerned was an adult “who understands her well-being”. The court also ordered against taking any coercive action against Nadeem till January 7, when the matter will next be heard.
“She as well as the petitioner have a fundamental right to privacy and being grown-up adults… are aware of the consequences of their alleged relationship,” the court said, according to The Indian Express. It observed that that there was no evidence that the woman was being forced to convert her religion and that the allegations “are prima facie based on suspicion.”
Highlighting the fundamental rights of citizens, the court said: “Article 25 provides that all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion, subject to public order, morality and health and to other provisions of Part III of the Constitution (that covers fundamental rights).”
Meanwhile, in a separate case, a bench of Allahabad High Court on Friday asked the Uttar Pradesh government to file counter affidavits to a batch of petitions challenging the new law. The petitioners, in this case, 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. The next hearing in this case too, will be held on January 7, while the Adityanath government has been asked to file its response by January 4.
The new law, passed through an ordinance promulgated by Uttar Pradesh Governor Anandiben Patel in November, 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. Violations provide 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 a 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.
These actions are despite the fact that in February, the Centre told the Lok Sabha that no “case of ‘love jihad’ has been reported by any of the central agencies”.