The Supreme Court on Wednesday agreed to hear petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the laws passed against unlawful religious conversions by the states of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. A bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde, however, refusedto stay the provisions of the laws and issued notices to both state governments on two different petitions.
The court’s decision came in response to a bunch of petitions which challenged the validity of the laws. One of the pleas filed by Advocates Vishal Thakre, Abhay Singh Yadav and Pranvesh, a law researcher, contended the laws “curtails the Fundamental Rights of the citizen of India…disturbs the Basic Structure of the Constitution as laid down by the Law”.
Their plea says the Act and the ordinance are “against the provisions of Special Marriage Act, 1954 and it will create fear in the society” as even those who are not a part of any such activity can be falsely implicated. The plea urges the court to direct the states “not to give effect to impugned provisions/ordinance and withdraw the same or in the alternative modify the said bill”.
Another plea by NGO Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) says provisions of the Act and Ordinance violate Article 21 of the Constitution as it empowers the State to suppress an individual’s personal liberty. “The Act and Ordinance”, it submits, “seemed to be premised on conspiracy theories and assume that all conversions are illegally forced upon individuals who may have attained the age of majority”.
The two laws “are unconstitutional as both attempt to control the life of the residents of Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh and to not allow them to take charge of the significant decisions in their life”, the plea says.
The plea says the right to convert oneself to another religion is manifested in Article 25 of the Constitution, but the “Ordinance and the Act impinge upon this right by imposing unreasonable and discriminatory restrictions…”
The laws view “all women including economically weak, marginalised, privileged women to be susceptible to illegal conversions”, the plea says.
The Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance 2020 and the Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion Act, 2018, prohibit forceful prohibition of conversion for the purposes of marriage. Himachal Pradesh also has an anti-conversion law, while the Madhya Pradesh Cabinet has approved the Freedom to Religion Bill, 2020 as an Ordinance.