‘Love Jihad’ myth causes violence, intimidation of minorities by police and non-state actors, Supreme Court told
Indian Christian devotees carry wooden crosses during a Good Friday procession in Amritsar in this file photo taken in 2015. (Photo: AFP / UCAN files)
India’s top court is likely to examine the constitutionality of nine of 11 provincial anti-conversion laws after their validity was challenged amid demands for a federal law to contain alleged rampant fraudulent religious conversions.
The Supreme Court on Feb. 3 served notices on the federal government and five provincial governments — Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Haryana, Jharkhand and Karnataka — on a fresh petition filed by a group called Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) challenging the constitutionality of their anti-conversion laws.
A bench headed by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud directed them to file their counter affidavits within three weeks and set March. 17 for the hearing.
Earlier, the court issued notices to Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Uttarakhand about a similar petition against their anti-conversion laws.
The CJP said in a statement that it is fighting a ‘Love Jihad’ myth that has led to violence and intimidation by police and non-state actors (against minority communities especially Muslims).
“The ‘Love Jihad’ laws legitimize un-constitutional, anti-minority and misogynistic beliefs, and help further the hateful, communal agenda of extremists”, it said.
"The top court is hearing other petitions challenging the validity of provincial anti-conversion laws"
“These laws”, according to the CJP, “impinge upon the privacy, freedoms and autonomy of consenting adults”.
Many provincial governments based on the narrative of “Love Jihad” had declared inter-religious marriage between a Muslim boy and a Hindu girl a criminal offense including marriages between a Christian boy and a Hindu girl.
These laws make it mandatory for inter-religious couples to seek prior permission from the district magistrate who will decide if conversion is for the purpose of marriage or for other reasons.
These laws also opposed religious conversion on the grounds that gullible people were converted to Christianity or Islam through fraudulent means such as force, allurement and coercion among other means.
Besides the petitions from the CJP, the top court is hearing other petitions challenging the validity of provincial anti-conversion laws and their appeals.
The same bench is also dealing with petitions calling for the transfer of all petitions challenging the legal validity of anti-conversion laws in provincial high courts to the top court along with another petition for legal measures (federal law) to contain what is described as rampant fraudulent religious conversion across the country.
“All these laws have violated the basic fundamental rights of citizens"
Attorney-General R. Venkataramani, India's top law official, opposed the call to bring all matters to the Supreme Court since the laws are state-specific, and it would be more proper to allow the high courts — the top courts in the provinces concerned — to examine the matter in the first instance.
“I am of the strong view that high courts should be allowed to examine the respective legislations,” he argued.
Father Cedric Prakash, one of the petitioners, however, disagreed with the attorney general saying, “the Supreme Court is the appropriate forum to deal with all these cases of a similar nature”.
“All these laws have violated the basic fundamental rights of citizens and under such circumstances, it is better for the top court to decide it once and for all,” Father Prakash, a Jesuit priest, and rights activist told UCA News on Feb. 6.
“Now what we see is a race among the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party ruled provincial governments to enact such laws one after another in gross violation of constitutional provisions," he explained.
Earlier, anti-conversion laws were restricted to the alleged illegal activities of religious conversion but now new laws and the amendments to the old ones insist on disclosing one’s choice of religion to a government authority.
"Anti-conversion laws were enacted based on false narratives"
How can it be allowed legally in a democratic country like India where everyone has the freedom to choose a religion and practice it, according to one’s consciousness? asked the priest.
The Supreme Court on many occasions asserted the citizens’ right to profess and practice a religion of choice and therefore, provincial anti-conversion laws are against the constitution and against the rulings of the court. "Therefore, all petitions challenging them must be transferred to the top court," the priest added.
Moreover, the anti-conversion laws were enacted based on false narratives of religious conversion to target Christians and Muslims. Since independence “we have not seen a single credible case of religious conversion through force, allurement or coercion as was alleged,” the priest said.
The priest also asserted that “nobody is forced to become Christian or Muslim or adopt any religion, however, if someone wants to follow a particular religion, he/she must be allowed to do so without any outside interference,” Father Prakash said.
The priest also expressed his happiness over the top court serving notices to the respondents and said “it is a very positive sign.”
Jamiat Ulama-I- Hind, Peoples Union for Civil Liberties, and National Federation of Indian women are among other petitioners.
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