The Allahabad High Court reunited a Hindu woman with her husband, a Muslim, observing that she had the choice to live her life on her own terms, Live Law reported on Sunday.

The court also quashed a first information report lodged against the man on the charges of abduction, after noting that the woman was an adult who married him out of her own free will.

A bench of Justices Pankaj Naqvi and Vivek Agarwal was hearing a habeas corpus petition filed by one Salman alias Karan, who said his wife, Shikha, was separated from him against her wishes. He said that his wife was sent to live with her parents by a Child Welfare Community in Etah district of Uttar Pradesh on December 7, “without any application of mind”.

In the plea, the couple had submitted that she is an adult, who entered into wedlock after attaining the age of majority. The woman also submitted that she wanted to live with her husband, and not her parents.

During the hearing, the court scrutinised the woman’s educational certificates and concluded that she indeed was a major. Therefore, the court said that the requirement of Section 94 of the Juvenile Justice Act, which mandates authorities to undertake the process of age determination by seeking evidence, was fulfilled.

“As the corpus has attained the age of majority and she has a choice to live her life on her own terms,” the court added. “She has expressed that she wants to live with her husband Salman, she is free to move as per her own choice without any restriction or hindrance being created by third party.”

The bench further noted that the Child Welfare Community’s decision to send the woman to her parents without confirming whether she was a minor “reflected the lack of appreciation of legal provisions”.

The Allahabad High Court also directed the investigation officer of the case, who was present in the court, to ensure provide protection to Shikha and her husband till they returned to their home. The Prayagraj superintendent of police was asked to provide necessary police security for safe passage of the couple.

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‘Love jihad’ and laws against it

The High Court’s observations assume relevance in the backdrop of the rising intolerance against interfaith marriages under the garb of Hindutva conspiracy theories of “love jihad”. “Love jihad” is a term used by Hindu right-wing groups to refer to an unproven conspiracy that Muslims are luring Hindu women into marrying them with the sole purpose of converting their brides to Islam.

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.