THE Allahabad High Court on Thursday directed that the marriages of 17 interfaith couples of Uttar Pradesh – who had petitioned it earlier – be registered by the marriage registrars “without insisting/awaiting approval of the competent district authority with regard to conversion of faith”.
The Court also directed the UP government and private respondents, including family members, to be “restrained from interfering with the life, liberty and privacy of the petitioners”. The Court made it clear that protection should be provided to the petitioners by police authorities of the respective districts, if demanded or needed.
Justice Suneet Kumar passed the order after hearing a batch of 17 petitions pertaining to interfaith marriages contracted by the petitioners upon conversion out of free will.
The Court noted wide educational disparity among the petitioners, with some of them being highly qualified, including medical professionals, graduates and so on while some not having passed secondary examinations. Yet, they share a common apprehension of threat to their life and liberty at the hands of their parents, relatives and other family members in connivance with the State machinery, the order said.
In November 2020, the UP government brought in the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, a law which makes the district magistrate’s permission necessary to convert before marriage. The Ordinance has since been replaced by an Act, passed by the UP assembly. The law has been invoked by UP Chief Minister Adityanath as part of his move to tackle “love jihad”, a pejorative coined by right-wing groups and political outfits to refer to interfaith relationships between Muslim men and non-Muslim women.
In the past, Adityanath had promised that his government would bring in a tough law against ‘love jihad’ and also spoke against those who reportedly “played with the honour” of “sisters and daughters” by concealing their identities and operating secretly.
While vigilante groups in UP view “love jihad” as Muslim men targeting Hindu women, significantly, nine of the 17 petitioners – a majority – identified themselves as women from Muslim households who converted to Hinduism to marry Hindu men; eight of the women identified themselves as Hindus who converted to Islam to marry Muslim men.
The counsel for the State submitted that the marriage could not be registered without the district authority making an enquiry, “as to whether the conversion is voluntary and not induced by coercion, allurement and threat.” However, the Court observed that the Marriage Officer/Registrar cannot refuse to register a duly solemnized marriage, and/or, insist upon approval of the conversion by the district authority. Further, it observed that “consent of the family or the community or the clan or the State or Executive is not necessary, once the two adult individuals agree to enter into a wedlock which is lawful and legal.”
Notably, Justice Suneet Kumar also said that it was the need of the hour for the Parliament to envisage a “single family code” to protect such interfaith couples. Observing that a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) has been “long due” in the country, the Court urged the union government to consider setting up a committee or commission to implement the mandate under Article 44 of the Indian Constitution, which stipulates that the “State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a Uniform Civil Code throughout the territory of India”.
According to the high court:
“The piecemeal attempts of Courts to bridge the gap between personal laws cannot take the place of a common civil code. Justice to all is a far more satisfactory way of dispensing justice than justice from case to case. The Court has its limitations and cannot embark the activist role of providing a civil code. The Parliament has to step in and initiate the process of enacting the UCC by appointing a committee, and/or, making a reference to the Law Commission.”