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State has no role to play in personal choice of individuals, says plea against Uttar Pradesh love jihad law

A petition has been filed before the Allahabad High Court challenging the constitutionality of the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020, seeking a declaration that the ordinance is unconstitutional and void.

The petition, filed by Advocates Devesh Saxena and Shashwat Anand, has sought a stay on the effect and operation of the impugned ordinance promulgated by the Governor of Uttar Pradesh and direction to the State government to not take any coercive action in pursuance of the impugned ordinance.

The plea has stated that the impugned ordinance leads to an unreasonable intrusion into the domain of personal autonomy, and mandates an advance notice of 60 days to the District Magistrate before the intended conversion, which is to be followed by a police enquiry into the circumstances of conversion. The religious priest doing the conversion is also required to give such prior notification. After the conversion, the person has to appear before the District Magistrate for confirmation. The authority will notify the conversion and will invite public objections before confirming the conversion. 

Therefore, the obligation imposed by the Ordinance to seek permission for conversion two months in advance is fundamentally arbitrary and a violation of the right to privacy and the State has no role to play in the personal choice of individuals in consummating a union and embracing the religion of their partner. 

The plea has contended that while the State can certainly regulate acts of forced conversion but the starting point of such regulation has to be a complaint made by the individual who opts to convert. In most of these cases, it is the parents who complain that their daughter has been fraudulently enticed into a relationship and is a victim of forced conversion, which makes the Ordinance an instrument of harassment in situations where interfaith marriages are voluntary.  

According to the petitioners, the provisions in the ordinance have the potential to give State sanction and administrative support to the societal hostilities which persons intending to have interfaith marriages face. Numerous petitions filed in High Courts seeking police protection for inter-faith couples denote the level of community threat and social ostracism which they have to face. The provisions of the ordinance energize the 12 community groups and reinforce the social asymmetries to further disempower an individual.

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The plea has contended that the Ordinance gives a licence to the police authorities to terrorise and harass inter-faith couples who want to exercise their right to marry according to their choice, in the guise unfounded radical theories of ‘love jihad’. The ordinance, which has completely failed to strike a balance between freedoms and mala fide conversions, has been passed and is being implemented in much haste and reckless manner without ensuring that the same does not curb one’s Fundamental Rights or hamper national integration instead.

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