Will UP Government’s Ordinance on Love Jihad succeed in Courts?

Love Jihad has been in the news of late. States like Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh have time and again warned against the problem of so-called Love Jihad and have claimed that this leads to forceful conversions of Hindu girls and women under the pretext of marriage.

Simply put, Love Jihad refers to conversion of a Non-Muslim women to Islam by feigning love and marriage. The right-wing groups in India have repeatedly claimed that this is an organized conspiracy against Hindu women. On the other hand, liberals have long decried these claims as baseless and have accused right wing groups of Islamophobia.

Undoubtedly, we have seen various cases and instances where Inter-religious marriages have gone awfully wrong and its often women who are at receiving end of severe abuse, torture – both mental and physical, and immense pressure to convert to Islam post marriage. Therefore, simply ignoring these cases as Islamophobia, or stray cases would be wrong. There have been way too many instances where women, mostly Hindu have been at the receiving end of such forceful conversions, pressure, abuse, torture and in many cases even death. The Liberals have often described these incidents as one-off incidents and argued that such incidents do not reflect an organized, nation-wide trend. However, on the other hand, Hindu Nationalists and Right-Wing associations have insisted that such conversions are part of a larger nationwide Islamic Conspiracy. Off late, Kamalrukh Khan, wife of Wajid Khan, the late music director has penned down the story of her marriage to the Musician under Special Marriage Act and highlighted how she was subjected to severe direct mental pressure to convert to Islam from husband’s family members which affected her marriage.

Truth perhaps lies somewhere in the middle. However, whether there is a real need for a law against religious conversion is the crux of this discussion. UP Government has recently introduced an Ordinance against Love Jihad, called – “Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance 2020 (Uttar Pradesh Vidhi Viruddh Dharm Samparivartan Pratishedh Adhyadesh 2020)”.  Other Governments, including Madhya Pradesh Government has stated that they might introduce a bill against Love Jihad soon.

The stated objective of this Ordinance is – “To provide for prohibition of unlawful conversion from one religion to another by misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means or by marriage and for the matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.”

A cursory glance at the above section says that this bill targets not just love-jihd but also mass conversions by social and charitable organisations, that Hindu Nationalists have long complained against. The Ordinance further states – “if any conversion is made due to any Allurement, Gift, Gratification, Easy Money, Material Benefit, Employment, Free education in reputed school or better lifestyle, divine displeasure or due to Coercion, Fraudulent means, then such a conversion shall be punishable under Section 5.”

Therefore it is clear from the above reading that the law targets not just conversion by marriage, but also mass conversions done by social organizations, through allurement, gratification and promise of a better lifestyle or fear of inviting divine displeasure. Right wing Hindu organizations have for a long time alleged and opposed mass conversions by Catholic groups, especially conversions of Adivasis and Tribals, by promising them gifts, or by promising them a better lifestyle. This Ordinance supposedly wants to bring that to an end as well.

Further, the ordinance states that any aggrieved person as well as family member of such a person may file a complaint against forceful religious conversion and the ordinance says – “Any aggrieved person, his parents, brother, sister, or any other person who is related to him by blood, marriage or adoption may lodge a complaint of such conversion which contravenes the provisions of section 3.”

The ordinance has special provisions of conversion for sole purpose of marriage or marriage for sole purpose of indulging in unlawful conversion. It states that “If any marriage is done for the sole purpose of unlawful conversion or vice versa by the man of one religion with the woman of another religion either by converting the woman before or after marriage may be declared void by the family court on a petition filed by either party thereto against the other party of the marriage.”

Thus, if a conversion is done with the sole purpose of marriage, such a marriage could be declared null and void by the Family court or any other competent court.

The Ordinance on the other hand requires a declaration from persons who desire to convert to another religion voluntarily. It states – “One who desires to convert his religion voluntarily, he/she shall give a declaration in the form prescribed in Schedule I at least 60 days in advance, to the District Magistrate”. The declaration has to clearly state that the person wishes to convert to another religion voluntarily and is not doing the same under any force, undue influence, coercion or any allurement.

Violation of all the above provisions may lead to varying degrees of fines and imprisonment, making offence under this ordinance a criminal offence.

Now the question arises whether the above ordinance is a good in law, or whether it infringes on rights and liberties of individuals in any way. Liberals and activists have decried this ordinance on various grounds, the chief one being that this ordinance infringes personal autonomy of citizens and blatantly disregards the provisions of liberty as enshrined in the Constitution.

Experts and prominent legal luminaries have decried this Ordinance on the grounds that it infringes on various aspects of personal rights of citizens of India and legitimises State’s intrusion in matter of personal rights and liberties. This is true to an extent – the very idea that two consenting adults have to justify their decision of marriage and/or religious conversion to the State is abhorrent. This effects their right to marry the person of their choice without any intrusion from the State. Further, the ordinance treats every conversion as lawless, unless certified as lawful by the State, which is deeply problematic in itself.

The provisions of the ordinance gives State sweeping powers to interfere in citizen’s life, including his or her choice of a life partner or religion and infringes upon fundamental rights of privacy, dignity and autonomy as well as Personal Liberty as guaranteed by Article 21 of Indian Constitution.

It is notable to note that Allahabad High Court, in a recent judgement has stated that “We fail to understand that if the law permits two persons even of the same sex to live together peacefully then neither any individual nor a family nor even the state can have an objection to the relationship of two major individuals who out of their own free will are living together.”

Therefore, despite UP Government’s best intentions in formulating this ordinance, it is plausible that the courts, if they follow their own previous judgements, might strike down this ordinance as bad in law.

In the meantime, it is undeniable that while forceful conversions do happen, and often women are at receiving end of the same, in a conversion through marriage and the most vulnerable sections of the society ate subjected to mass conversions, better awareness and other redressal mechanisms to address these issues are the need of the other. Whether a blanket ordinance that bans religious conversion altogether is the right solution or whether the courts would declare it bad in law remains to be seen.

13 Interesting facts about Constitution of India

In India, we celebrate Constitution Day on 26th November every year. The Constitution is perhaps the single most important document which is also the Supreme Law of India. The document lays down the Legal and Political framework of India as well as clearly enumerates rights guaranteed to every citizen of India as well as duties of every citizen of India. Indian Constitution is the longest written constitution of any country on earth.

Here are some lesser-known facts about the Constitution of India:

  1. India boasts of the world’s longest written Constitution among all sovereign countries in the world. It consists of 448 articles and is divided into 25 parts.
  2. The original copies of the Indian Constitution were written in Hindi and English.
  3. Artists from Shantiniketan decorated every page of the Indian Constitution.
  4. The original Constitution of India was handwritten by Prem Behari Narain Raizada in an italic style.
  5. Before its completion on 26th November 1949, the Constitution underwent more than 2,000 amendments.
  6. The Constitution of India has borrowed some of its features from 10 other countries, including Britain, Ireland, Japan, USA, South Africa, Germany, Australia, and Canada. This is why Indian Constitution is often known as the “Bag of Borrowings”.
  7. The Constituent Assembly of India was established in 1946. It met for 166 days spread over 2 years, 11 months and 18 days.
  8. Dr. Rajendra Prasad, the first President of India, was elected as the President of the Constituent Assembly and Dr. B. R. Ambedkar was the head of the drafting committee.
  9. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar is widely regarded as the Father of Indian Constitution.
  10. Indian Constitution is a hand-written document. It is one of the longest hand-written documents in the world. There are a total of 1,17,369 words in the English version of the Constitution of India.
  11. The original hand-written copies of the Constitution are preserved in helium-filled cases in the Library of Parliament House.
  12. Basic Structure of the Constitution Stands on the Government of India Act, 1935.
  13. The Preambles of the Constitution of India and the United States of America have the same beginning. Both the Preambles begin with “We the People”.

Kerala’s Draconian Provision and how it affects you!

A lot of newsprint and webpages have been spent discussing the absurd new provision and amendment being sought by State Government of Kerala. Experts have decried and protested this amendment as being draconian and they claim that it will muzzle free speech in the State and Country. Here we take a closer look at the proposed and now accepted Amendment and see how it affects everyone.

The Amendment is being bought to Kerala Police Act, 2011 u/s 118-A and it reads:

118 A. Punishment for making, expressing, publishing or disseminating any matter which is threatening, abusive, humiliating or defamatory.─Whoever makes, expresses, publishes or disseminates through any kind of mode of communication, any matter or subject for threatening, abusing, humiliating or defaming a person or class of persons, knowing it to be false and that causes injury to the mind, reputation or property of such person or class of persons or any other person in whom they have interest shall on conviction, be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years or with fine which may extend to ten thousand rupees or with both.”.
The ordinance, making the above into law has been signed by Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan on 21/11/2020.

On a cursory reading, this section may seem fine, because as per the act, abusing, humiliating or defaming someone will be considered a criminal act. However, a closer reading of the section brings out various pertinent issues which will affect everyone.

Firstly, the term ‘threatening’ is too vague and ambiguous and is open to subjective interpretation. Plus, it gives unfettered power to police and they are free to construe even simple criticism as a threat. Besides this includes “any mode of communication” and therefore even Whatsapp conversations, Twitter and Facebook posts or other social media posts would fall under the ambit of this amendment. Thus, common citizens tweeting about the Government, or criticizing the Government of the day or any of their schemes could be vulnerable.

Even legitimate print and electronic media and journalists would be exposed to the whims, fancies and caprices of police if this law sees the light of the day. Therefore, a lot of experts have rightly decried this law as death of freedom of speech and expression which is cherished and much needed in any democracy.

That the Government of Kerala wants to bring this law is not surprising. The Government has been targeted all around, both in mainstream as well as social media for its various scams, corruption, scandals and inept handling of Covid crisis. With elections in the near future, this has put tremendous pressure on the Government and Government has simply taken the easy way out and attempted to muzzle the media and common man and decided that banning all forms of criticism is easier than working to improve the actual Governance.

Update: Due to unrelenting pressure from Media, prominent activists and citizens and common folks, the Government of Kerala has decided to put the above amendment on hold and will decide its fate after consultation with its MLA’s. One hopes that better sense prevails, and such a draconian and anti-democratic amendment never sees light of the day.

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