UP govt defends “love jihad” ordinance; cites secularism to justify protecting citizens against “forced conversion”

The Uttar Pradesh Government has defended its “Love Jihad” Ordinance in the Allahabad High Court saying that it aims at protecting public interest and maintaining public order.

It has said that its Ordinance was not the first of its kind and there existed at least eight states in the country besides UP which prohibited “unlawful” conversion and provided for punishment for the same.

The government has claimed that the Ordinance only aimed to prohibit any form of unlawful conversion actuated by misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement, other fraudulent means and marriage and there was no charge mentioned in the Ordinance implicating anyone in the name of “Love Jihad”.

Citing the ruling of the Supreme Court in Rev. Stanislaus. V. State of Madhya Pradesh, the UP Government has argued that the right to practice, profess or propagate religion did not include a right to convert.

The affidavit, filed in response to pleas against the Ordinance, has asserted that the Constitution of India abhorred any form of forceful conversion particularly in matters of religion.

“Being a secular State it becomes the formost duty of the State to protect its citizens from any kind of unlawful or forceful conversion so that the liberty of thought, faith, belief and worship as well as equality of status stands safeguarded, thereby assuring the dignity of the individual”, the affidavit reads.

It said the issue of forced conversion was not peculiar to India. India’s neighboring countries had also framed anti-conversion laws. There are anti-conversion laws in Nepal, Myanamar, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

The working committee of the UN had also taken note of forced conversion and how the violation of freedom of conscience by non-state actors was being perpetrated, the UP Government has said.

The government has also claimed that the entry of an individual to another religion compromises the dignity of the individual, when the individual is not assured equality of status unless they convert. In such cases, the conversion would be against the choice of the individual.

“Wherever the personal law comes into play and the individual exercises the right to personal liberty but the personal law of the community to which the individual wants to enter upon by changing his (gender neutral) religion or religious practice causes issue of complexities as the dignity of the individual gets compromised and the individual is not assured the quality of status”, the affidavit reads.

Thus what happens is, the affidavit states, that the individual while exercising the right to personal liberty loses his dignity and equality of status to the religion which he does not adopt but is trying to take benefit of some sort by being in the society of the member of the other religion.

In such a situation, the affidavit asserts, the individual even though has not changed his religion but has only exercised the right of liberty/choice to be in association with member of other religion but is deprived of the benefit of the new religion unless a conversion takes place. This conversion is against the choice of the individual who wants to be with the member of the other religion but does not want to leave his faith. Thus there is a conflict of interest which is an issue addressed by means of the instant legislation wherein the inter fundamental right of the individual are safeguarded”.

The UP Government has also questioned the decision of the division bench of the High Court which recently held that a single-judge bench decision holding that religious conversion just for the purpose of marriage is unacceptable, is not good law.

It said that the said decision inter-alia failed to consider the impact of the personal law of the parties and based on an incomplete analysis of the Supreme Court decision in Puttawamy case (privacy case).

The High Court last month called for a response of the government on a batch of petitions challenging the “Love Jihad” ordinance. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has also issued notice on petitions challenging the UP law as well as Uttarakhand which has a similar law on anti-conversion.

Read the affidavit