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'Love jihad' law comes into effect in UP with governor's nod


LUCKNOW: Uttar Pradesh became the first state to promulgate the law prohibiting 'love jihad' -- the ‘forced’ or ‘dishonest’ religious conversions.

The came into effect after the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020 got the assent of Governor Anandiben Patel on Saturday.

Meanwhile, former UP CM and Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav resolved to oppose it in the state assembly.

“Instead of this, bring an ordinance for the procurement of farmers’ produce. Bring an ordinance that will give employment to jobless youth,” Akhilesh exhorted the state government through a tweet while making it clear that his party was opposed to the state government move.

Yogi Adityanath cabinet had recently approved the draft proposal of the ordinance against forcible or “dishonest” religious conversions including those for the sake of marriage, which could land violators in jail for up to 10 years, early this week.

According to the ordinance, a marriage will be declared “null and void” if the conversion of a woman is solely for that purpose, and those wishing to change their religion after the wedding need to apply to the district magistrate.

The new law, formally called Uttar Pradesh Vidhi Viruddh Dharm Samparivartan Pratishedh Adhyadesh 2020 (UP Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion Ordinance-2020), includes a provision to void a marriage if it is solemnised primarily to convert a woman’s faith.

However, the ordinance came following a law commission report and after studying all possible aspects.

The draft ordinance makes religious conversions using force, coercion, enticement, deceit, and fraud non-bailable and cognisable offences. It means that a police officer can arrest a suspect of the offence without warrant and can start an investigation without the permission of a court.

The law provides for imprisonment of a minimum of one year to a maximum of five years and a penalty of not less than Rs 15,000 in case of adult conversion. In cases where a minor girl or a woman from the scheduled caste or scheduled tribe communities is involved, the imprisonment ranges from three years to 10 years and a penalty of at least Rs 25,000.

In cases of collective or mass illegal conversion, the punishment is between three and 10 years with a penalty of at least Rs 50,000. In such offences, the registration of the organisation holding the mass conversion event could be cancelled. The law also empowers district magistrates to award compensation not exceeding Rs 5 lakh to victims of forced conversion.

If individuals want to change their faith, they will have to apply in a prescribed format two months before the planned conversion. This is double the period stipulated in the 1954 Special Marriage Act that regulates interfaith unions.

Violation of this clause in the ordinance would make a person liable for imprisonment between six months to three years and a penalty of at least Rs 10,000.

The state brought the law roughly a month after UP CM Yogi Adityanath had taken the vow to end “love jihad.” However, the ordinance doesn’t mention the word “love jihad” anywhere, said UP law commission chairperson AN Mittal, who was involved in drafting the document.

CM Yogi’s last month promise was based on a judgment by a single-judge bench of the Allahabad high court in October objecting to religious conversion only for marriage. However, on November 23, 2020, a two-judge division bench said the previous verdict didn’t lay down good law. The division bench also said the right to marry a partner irrespective of faith was a part of a person’s constitutional right that could not be infringed upon.

Uttar Pradesh’s ordinance has been promulgated at a time when several other BJP ruled states such as Karnataka, Haryana, and Madhya Pradesh -- have made their intention clear to outlaw “love jihad”, in which Hindu right-wing activists claim gullible Hindu women are being coerced into a conversion on the false pretext of marriage.