The Calcutta High Court on Monday ruled that there can be no interference with an interfaith marriage if a woman entered the alliance with consent and decided to change her religion, reported Live Law.
A bench of Justices Sanjib Banerjee and Arijit Banerjee made the observations while hearing a plea filed by the father of a 19-year-old Hindu woman, who converted to Islam after marrying a Muslim man.
The woman, identified as Pallabi Sarkar, had married Asmaul Shaikh, according to a report filed at the Murutia Police Station on December 7. The report also contained a copy of a statement made by Sarkar on September 16 before a judicial magistrate in Tehatta in Nadia district, stating that she married Shaikh by choice and was willingly living with him.
But the father in his plea claimed that his daughter was forced to make a false statement against her wishes. He alleged that he visited the court of the magistrate on the day Sarkar recorded her statements, but was not allowed to meet his daughter or talk to her.
The father submitted in the High Court that he feared that the woman might not feel free to testify. He pleaded that before she meets the judge, his apprehensions should be allayed, according to the Hindustan Times.
In response to his allegations, the Calcutta High Court ordered that Sarkar be brought before the most senior additional district judge stationed in Tehatta in the presence of her father, to ensure there was no pressure on the woman to make false statements. Following the meeting, the judge submitted a “clear and clean report” to the High Court, confirming that Sarkar’s marriage was consensual.
But the father remained unconvinced and still harboured some suspicion. Consequently, the High Court directed a meeting between the woman and the additional public prosecutor of the court on December 23.
At the same time, the bench, in its order, noted: “If an adult marries as per her choice and decides to convert and not return to her paternal house, there can be no interference in the matter.”
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The observations made by the Calcutta High Court assume relevance in the backdrop of the rising intolerance against interfaith marriages under the garb of Hindutva conspiracy theories of “love jihad”.
On September 29, the Allahabad High Court declined to order police protection to a newly-married couple. The woman, Muslim by birth, had converted to Hinduism a month before their marriage on July 31. In the order, citing a precedent, the High Court said that religious conversion only for the sake of marriage, without any knowledge of or faith in the religion the person is adopting, was not acceptable.
The order, which was made public in the last week of October, was declared bad in law and struck down by another bench of the High Court on November 23. This court order essentially said that it does not matter whether a conversion is valid or not. The right of two adults to live together cannot be encroached upon by the state or others.
This was of great importance as Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath had referred to the September judgement on November 1 as the basis for a new law that would criminalise “love jihad”, a conspiracy theory used by right-wing groups who accuse Muslim men of using marriage as a lure to convert Hindu women to Islam. On November 24, the government promulgated the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance to ban such conversions.
On December 3, the Allahabad High Court made another significant judgement, ruling that two consenting adults in a relationship had the right to live together without any interference from their families. The court noted that though live-in relationships are not accepted by the Indian society, they do not amount to any offence under law.