Quashing an FIR that accused a Muslim man of abducting a Hindu woman and forcefully marrying her after converting her to Islam, the Allahabad High Court has said that “two adults are free to choose their partner” and that it is their right to freedom of choice as to whom they would like to live with.
The Bench of Justice Pankaj Naqvi and Justice Vivek Agarwal also said that the High Court’s judgments in two previous cases of interfaith marriages where it had observed that “conversion just for the purpose of marriage is unacceptable” were “not good law”.
The order assumes significance as Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had cited one of the same High Court judgments to bring a law against ‘love jihad’.
“None of these judgments dealt with the issue of life and liberty of two matured individuals in choosing a partner or their right to freedom of choice as to with whom they would like to live. We hold the judgments in Noor Jahan and Priyanshi as not laying good law,” the court said, referring to the previous orders of the High Court in two interfaith couple cases.
The court, however, added, “We clarify that while deciding this petition, we have not commented upon the validity of alleged marriage/conversion.”
The court made the observations on November 11 while hearing a petition filed by Salamat Ansari and Priyanka Kharwar (Alia), which sought quashing of the FIR filed by the woman’s father. The couple, who had got married in August last year after Kharwar converted to Islam, said in their petition that the FIR was “prompted by malice and mischief”.
The FIR, lodged in Kushinagar district, had booked Ansari, his mother and brother for kidnapping, inducing a woman to compel her to marriage, assault and criminal intimidation. Police had also invoked sections of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act against Ansari.
“We do not see Priyanka Kharwar and Salamat as Hindu and Muslim, rather as two grown-up individuals who out of their own free will and choice are living together peacefully and happily over a year. The courts and the Constitutional courts in particular are enjoined to uphold the life and liberty of an individual guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. Right to live with a person of his/her choice irrespective of religion professed by them is intrinsic to right to life and personal liberty. Interference in a personal relationship would constitute a serious encroachment into the right to freedom of choice of the two individuals,” the High Court said in its order.
The court said that to disregard the choice of a person who is an adult will “not only be antithetic to the freedom of choice of a grown-up individual but would also be a threat to the concept of unity in diversity”.
“…we are quashing the FIR primarily on the ground that no offences are made out…. as also the fact that two grown-up individuals are before us, living together for over a year of their own free will and choice,” the court said.
It also referred to the Supreme Court’s 2018 order setting aside the Kerala High Court judgment annulling the marriage of Muslim convert girl Hadiya and Shefin Jahan. The Supreme Court had then said that “the right to marry a person of one’s choice is integral to Article 21 (right to life and liberty) of the Constitution”.
“A perusal of the aforesaid judgment manifests that the Supreme Court has consistently respected the liberty of an individual who has attained the age of majority,” the Allahabad High Court said.
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