A month after the Allahabad High Court observed that religious conversion for the purpose of marriage is unacceptable, the Uttar Pradesh Government has enforced an ordinance ostensibly aimed at curbing forcible or fraudulent conversions, including those for the sake of tying the knot. The onus to prove that the conversion has not been done forcibly will lie on the accused and the convert, which implies that the former will be considered ‘guilty until proven innocent’ and not the other way round. The UP law, which strikes at the root of personal liberty and individual choice, runs the risk of being misused to the detriment of a legally recognised union between consenting adults.
The first case under this legislation, which intends to crack down on ‘love jihad’ but doesn’t mention the controversial term, has been registered in Bareilly district on a man’s complaint that a youth from his village lured his daughter and was now forcing her to convert. ‘Love jihad’ is touted as a grand conspiracy under which Muslim men are out to convert Hindu women to Islam on the pretext of marriage. However, lack of clinching evidence in most cases has largely rendered it a figment of paranoid imagination. In 2009, the Kerala High Court had directed the state police chief to find out whether there was any organised movement to convert Christian and Hindu girls to Islam by dangling the marital bait. The probe found no conclusive proof to establish the existence of such a movement or the veracity of the allegations.
Marriage is primarily a social and legal institution rather than a religious one. Unleashing the law on an inter-faith couple that duly completes the formalities for the registration of marriage reeks of prejudice and vendetta. The fact that the governments of some other BJP-ruled states are preparing to jump on to the anti-conversion bandwagon has fuelled speculation that the common objective is to demonise a minority community and criminalise conversion even by choice. Such draconian provisions are eventually an assault on our Constitution, which equally entitles all citizens to freely practise any religion. And love is meant to be celebrated, not sacrificed at the altar of religion.