The Uttar Pradesh cabinet has approved the ordinance against religious conversions through fraudulent means, especially conversions for the purpose of marriage. But a vicious propaganda has been unleashed that the law is aimed at non-existent ‘love jihad.’ The law has no mention of ‘love jihad’ anywhere, yet there is so much noise in the media and social media platforms to this effect. Media headlines put out so far go like this – ‘Why India’s Most Populous State Just Passed a Law Inspired by an Anti-Muslim Conspiracy Theory’?
The facts are as follows.
The bill is titled ‘Uttar Pradesh Vidhi Virudhh Dharm Samparivartan Pratisdhedh Adhyadesh, 2020’ or ‘UP Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion Ordinance – 2020’. It does not use the word ‘love jihad’ at all nor is it directed towards curbing fundamental rights of any citizen to practice religion of their choice. It is not for the first time that a law has been enacted in India having similar provisions.
The ‘The Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion Act, 2018’ also has provisions against conversions by fraud or misrepresentation for purposes of marriage. Section 3 of the said act reads:
‘No person shall convert or attempt to convert, either directly or otherwise, any other person from one religion to another by use of misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means or by marriage nor shall any person abet or conspire such conversion;
Provided that, if any person comes back to his ancestral religion, shall not be deemed conversion under this Act’.
So why such a brouhaha against the Uttar Pradesh law when a law with similar provisions was enacted in 2008 in Uttarakhand? Is the opposition aimed at the law or aimed at Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath? In fact, enactment of such a law was recommended by the Uttarakhand high court and the Uttar Pradesh Law Commission. Enactment of this legislation paves way for other states like Kerala, which have been advised by respective High Courts to bring similar laws against forced conversions.
Provisions under the law:
- The act aims to provide freedom of religion by the prohibition of conversion from one religion to another by misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means or by marriage & for matters connected therewith.
- The punishment for such conversions may range from 1-5 years. It could attract a higher penalty if the person being converted is a minor or belongs to SC/ST.
- The one who desires to convert and the one who is doing the conversion process must submit forms in the District Collector / District Magistrate’s office who will then enquire about the real intention, cause and purpose of such conversions.
- The converted person must submit a declaration and present himself/herself before the District Collector / District Magistrate, in person, to testify claims made in the declaration.
- The burden of proof lies on the person who has caused the conversion.
- Any person, reconverting to his immediate previous religion, shall not be deemed as a convert under this law.
Q1. Does it deny freedom to women to profess religion of their choice?
Absolutely not. In fact quite the opposite. It makes it unlawful to forcefully convert women after or during their marriage. It gives them the choice to continue with the religion of their choice. There have been numerous instances of forceful conversion post-marriage, concealing identity while luring the girl or by other undue influence. Noteworthy is, the bill doesn’t outlaw conversion as a whole. It outlaws conversion against free will in limited cases. So cases like Hadiya, where she was groomed to accept Islam out of free will, still won’t come under the purview of this law.
Q2. Does it act against free will?
No, it doesn’t. In fact, it provides freedom of religion by prohibiting conversion against free will. Conversions for the sole purpose of marriage have been outlawed by courts in the past. This law only codifies such judgements. You can’t convert to a religion just because it allows you to bypass certain civil laws. For example, you can’t convert to Islam because you want to keep multiple wives. Your family can’t convert to Islam overnight because you want to disinherit your daughters from parental properties.
You can convert only out of your own conviction for the tenets of a religion. Free will can’t be an alibi for committing religious bigotry and a fraud upon the law
Q3. Does it violate Article 25A?
A short reading of article 25, which is a fundamental right, before we commence further.
“Subject to public order, morality and health, all persons are equally entitled to practise, profess and propagate their religion”. Islamists across the board and their handlers in the media are arguing that anti-conversion law prohibits propagation, which is a constitutional guarantee. They seem to be under the impression, “Either your head or your signature will be on the conversion papers” is the propagation of religion. That is where they and their handlers in the media are erring, by overlooking the first part of the article – the condition which sets the term for practising, professing and propagating. “Subject to public order, morality and health”.
‘Propagating’ is a person telling someone about his religion,roots, cultures, traditions and values. This is held by the honourable SC. ‘Convert or face beheading’, as practised by the Islamic invaders, is not propagation. That violates public order and health. Conversion is not a fundamental right under article 25. Laws against conversion do not violate your fundamental rights.
This is not the first time such laws are passed. The Orissa Freedom of Religion Act, 1967 was challenged in court and was duly dismissed. The propagandists know this, hence, instead of challenging the proposed law to be enacted in UP, if they really believe it to be anti- constitutional, they will only make noise in social media platforms.
This law, in no way, restricts interfaith marriages. Numerous courts have given several judgements on religious conversions. Courts have even passed orders asking state governments to frame laws against this growing menace. The proposed law only codifies the principle laid down by our courts.
Presently our country has different civil laws for different religions. Conversion by fraud or coercion will have implications for the concerned individual in matters of marriage, adoptions and inheritance rights.
Secularism can be enshrined in the preamble but in practice, in the absence of a uniform civil code, the state does interfere in civil laws which are religion-specific.
In such circumstances, laws that protect religious rights should be welcome. Such a progressive piece of legislation should be hailed by people from all religions as it protects the most vulnerable section of the society – women. But since the law is being enacted by a state ruled by BJP, malicious propaganda has been unleashed against the same.