India is a nation with multiple cultures, religions, castes and faiths. In 1967, Odisha became the first state to bring in the “Orissa Freedom of Religion Act, 1967” to make sure that no one is forced into converting his/her religion. After this, various states in India introduced “Anti Conversion Laws”, for instance, Madhya Pradesh Dharma Swatantrya Adhiniyam, 1968. Other states like Chhattisgarh, Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Gujrat, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand also introduced such Freedom of Religion Acts.

While some of these acts prohibited conversion to another religion by means of coercion or fraud alone, a few of these acts like Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion Act, 2018, also prohibited conversion of religion by means of marriage. Similarly, at present various states are considering bringing in separate laws and legislations to prohibit conversion of religion through marriage. While doing so the term ‘Love Jihad’ was used by political leaders, which is a theory that suggests that men from the Islamic community marry women of other religions just for the purpose of converting the woman’s religion. 

Recently, Uttar Pradesh Government has passed an ordinance against ‘Love Jihad’ called ‘The Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion Ordinance, 2020’. This new Ordinance has the provisions which make an unlawful conversion a non-bailable and cognizable offence that can also send the accused in prison for up to five years along with the fine of Rs. 15,000/- for forceful religious conversion. To give an example, if the woman is from the SC/ST community or is seen as part of mass conversion then the jail term is for 3 to 10 years along with a fine of Rs. 50,000/-. 

Furthermore, Courts can also direct the accused to pay a compensation up to Rs. 5 Lakhs to the victim of such religious conversion. Additionally, anyone who desires to convert their religion voluntarily, will have to give a declaration in the form given in Schedule 1 of the ordinance at least 60 days in advance to the District Magistrate. The burden of proof is on the person who has caused the conversion. However, as per this ordinance, it is not necessary for a person to give any reasons behind his/her intention. On 29/11/2020 the first case was registered in Bareilly under this ordinance.

The Allahabad High Court has laid a significant ruling on this aspect on 11th November, 2020. The division bench of Justice Pankaj Naqvi and Justice Vivek Agarwal heard a plea for quashing of an FIR filed against Salamat Ansari & 3 Others under Sections 363, 366, 352, 506 IPC and Sections 7 and 8 the POCSO Act. Salamat married Priyanka Kharwar on 19 August 2019 after she converted to Islam. The FIR was filed by Father of Kharwar. The Court by deciding in favour of the couple observed that, “Right to live with a person of his/her choice irrespective of religion professed by them, is intrinsic to the right to life and personal liberty. Interference in a personal relationship, would constitute a serious encroachment into the right to freedom of choice of the two individuals.”

By observing so, the court set aside a past ruling of 2014 and of September 2020 dealing with similar subject matter and deemed them as “not good law”. Nevertheless, an appeal challenging the said HC order has been filed in the Supreme Court. 

Therefore, while some view such laws to be protecting the right to freedom of religion, some view it as intruding on the person’s right to choose and right to life & liberty. Hence, the constitutionality of such laws yet remain blurry. 

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