Allahabad High Court underlines importance of religious freedom as a human right in civilized states
Indian rights activists hold a protest in Bangalore, on Dec. 1, 2020, against the decision of Bharatiya Janata Party-led governments in states across the country to introduce laws against 'love jihad'. (Photo: AFP)
Christians in India have welcomed a recent court order saying interfaith marriages need not wait for the nod from authorities as required under the new anti-conversion law in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.
Allahabad High Court directed that the marriages of 17 interfaith couples in the state be registered without insisting on or waiting for approval from the competent district authority with regard to the couples’ conversion of faith.
The court said the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Act, 2021, does not prohibit interfaith marriages, but individuals marrying outside their religion “can be subjected to harassment” while dismissing the government’s contention that the couples had not got mandatory approval from the district authorities under the provisions of the law.
The Nov. 18 order, passed by Justice Suneet Kumar in a batch of petitions filed by interfaith couples who had entered wedlock after changing their religion, said that “freedom of religion and belief is a basic human right across civilized states, and the state cannot inquire into or take notice of a person’s religious or moral belief.”
“… The authority, be it the Marriage Registrar/Officer, or the district authority under the Unlawful Conversion Act, 2021, is neither a court nor authorized by law to enter into the issue pertaining to the validity of marriage or prohibit interfaith marriage,” the judge said.
Christian leaders welcomed the court order as “a blessing for interfaith couples” who were being victimized by the new anti-conversion law.
Uttar Pradesh, ruled by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), began implementing the anti-conversion law in February
"This judgment once again proves that the anti-conversion or so-called freedom of religion law is against the spirit of the constitution of India,” said A.C. Michael, a former member of Delhi Minorities Commission.
Any law, including the one in Uttar Pradesh, does not prohibit interfaith marriages, he told UCA News on Nov. 24.
The United Christian Forum, of which Michael is the national coordinator, also welcomed the high court order as a relief for individuals marrying outside their religion, especially “on free will.”
Uttar Pradesh, ruled by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), began implementing the anti-conversion law in February to check religious conversions under the guise of marriage citing the so-called “love jihad” by Muslim men to convert girls of other religions by feigning love.
The law has a provision of imprisonment for up to 10 years and a maximum fine of 50,000 rupees (US$690) for those found guilty.
“Interestingly, the first anti-conversion law was enacted in Odisha state in 1967 but not a single conviction was ordered under its provision until today,” Michael said.
Uttar Pradesh is among eight Indian states anti-conversion laws. Christian and Muslim leaders say these laws are misused to persecute them and hope they are withdrawn.
As illustrated by the case of interfaith couples in Uttar Pradesh, Justice Kumar had to order the district police authorities to “ensure the safety of the petitioners and provide protection to them, if demanded or needed” as they faced threats to their life and liberty at the hands of members of their families and society in connivance with state machinery.
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