UP government passes ordinance to check forced conversions amid ‘love jihad’ row

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Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.

UP government on Tuesday passed an ordinance to check forced religious conversions, amid furious nationwide debate over “love jihad”, a right-wing conspiracy theory that Muslim men enter into relationships with Hindu women to forcibly convert them.

The ordinance comes less than a month after Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, while campaigning for Uttar Pradesh Assembly bypolls, cited an Allahabad High Court order to invoke “Ram naam satya” – a Hindu funeral chant – to issue a thinly-veiled threat to “those who… play with our sisters’ respect”.

The Uttar Pradesh Unlawful Religious Conversion Prohibition Ordinance (2020) says religious conversions that use falsehood, force or an incentive, or take place solely for the purpose of marriage will be declared a crime.

Those who plan to convert after marriage, the UP government said, will have to inform the District Magistrate of their intention at least two months in advance.

The person who wants to convert will have to prove that it was not a forced conversion or for marriage. And all cases filed under the ordinance will be non-bailable.

“Over 100 cases were before us where forcible conversion has taken place (and so) framing a law was necessary. Yogiji’s cabinet has brought in an ordinance and there are many penal provisions,” UP cabinet minister Siddharth Nath Singh said.

According to the ordinance, forced conversion (or conversion through fraud) will attract five-year imprisonment or a fine of ₹ 15,000. If the forced conversion involves a woman from the marginalised communities, then this will increase to between three and 10 years’ jail and a fine of ₹ 25,000. Mass conversions will attract a similar jail term and a fine of ₹ 50,000.

HC’s significant order

Hours before the ordinance was passed the Allahabad High Court, in its final order in a significant case, cancelled a case against a Muslim man, filed by the parents of his wife, who converted to Islam last year to marry him.

“Interference in a personal relationship would constitute a serious encroachment into the right to freedom of choice of the two individuals,” the court observed, adding, “The courts and the constitutional courts, in particular, are enjoined to uphold life and liberty of an individual guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.”

“We do not see Priyanka Kharwar and Salamat Ansari as Hindu and Muslim, rather as two grown-up individuals who – out of their own free will and choice – are living together peacefully and happily over a year,” the two-judge bench said.

“Love jihad” is a pejorative used by right-wing groups to target relationships between Muslim men and Hindu women, which, they say, is a ruse to forcibly convert the women.

Relationships between Hindu men and Muslim women are ignored.

The Centre has not recognised the term. In February, the Union Home Ministry told Parliament that “love jihad is not defined in law” and no such case had been reported by central agencies. That, however, has not stopped a number of BJP-ruled states, including Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana, from insisting they will push through “anti-love jihad” legislation.

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