India top court agrees to examine validity of anti-conversion laws
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India top court agrees to examine validity of anti-conversion laws

The Supreme Court of India has issued notice on a petition challenging the so-called “love jihad” laws made by the states of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand but refused to stay the controversial legislations.

The petition was filed by Citizens for Justice and Peace, a non-governmental organisation. Chief Justice of India SA Bobde and Justices V Ramasubramanian and AS Bopanna were on the bench Wednesday hearing the petition. The petitioners were seeking a stay on the grounds that both the legislations violate articles 21 and 25, as they empower the State to suppress an individual’s personal liberty and the freedom to practice religion of one’s choice. Besides seeking to declare the laws null and void, the plea sought direction to the two states to not to give effect to impugned provisions and withdraw the same.

The petition also said that while the burden of proof is usually on the prosecution to prove the guilt and the accused is treated as innocent until proven guilty, under the ordinance, the burden of proof as to whether a religious conversion took place through misrepresentation, force, or by any fraudulent means or by marriage, lies on the person who has caused the conversion. The plea by the petitioners asserted, “The Act and Ordinance seemed to be premised on conspiracy theories and assume that all conversions are illegally forced upon individuals who may have attained the age of majority. These provisions in both the impugned Act and Ordinance place a burden on individuals to justify their personal decisions for State approval.”

The Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020 prohibits a person from forcefully converting the religion of another by marriage. Violation of this provision is punishable with imprisonment for a term not less than one year but which may extend up to five years, and a minimum fine of 15,000 rupees. The Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion Act, 2018 prohibits the conversion of religion for marriage and entails two-year jail term for those found guilty. Conversion for employment or material benefit is also prohibited.

The court refused a stay on the provisions on the ground that the states’ contentions hadn’t been heard. Instead, a notice was issued to seek response from both the state governments within four weeks.