Why SC judge Rohinton Nariman’s comment of PIL against ‘deceitful religious conversion’ is important

Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman said in a recent hearing that there is no reason why a person above 18 years cannot choose his or her religion
Why SC judge Rohinton Nariman’s comment of PIL against ‘deceitful religious conversion’ is important

The word Love Jihad is being loosely thrown around when two people from different religious communities come together to partake in something that has nothing to do with religion. We saw the latest instance in Kerala when two Medical students — Janaki M Omkumar and Naveen K Razak — danced together in a viral video. After the video was released on social media, netizens loved it as it brought cheer in these troubling times. However, a lawyer indirectly alluded to Love Jihad after saying that there was something more “fishy” to the video than just a dance rendition.

Love Jihad is a conspiracy theory that invokes prejudice against Muslims or any other religion for that matter. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are often known to use this term and even made it an election promise in Assam and Kerala. Many BJP-ruled states have passed the anti-conversion law also known as the Love Jihad law. However, when BJP leader Ashwini Upadhyay approached the Supreme Court seeking a ban on black magic, superstition and deceitful religious conversion, the judges rejected his plea.

Supreme Court Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman refused to entertain public interest litigation (PIL) seeking directions to ban black magic, superstition and deceitful religious conversion. A Bench consisting of Justices Nariman, BR Gavai and Hrishikesh Roy labelled the PIL as “publicity interest litigation”. The Bench said Upadhyay’s petition is a “harmful kind” and warned heavy costs for bringing such a petition before the Court. “What kind of writ petition is this under Article 32? We will impose a heavy cost on you. You argue on your own risk,” the Bench said.

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“There is no reason as to why a person above the age of 18 cannot choose his or her religion. There is a reason why the word 'propagate' is present in the Indian Constitution,” said Justice Nariman referring to Article 25.

The petitioner alleged that “carrot and stick”, black magic, etc., are used to perform forceful religious conversions. He added that these conversions are reported weekly throughout the country. The petitioner also added that victims of such forceful conversions belong to the SC-ST communities. In his plea, Upadhyay also said that the central and state government have failed to control the menace of black magic, superstition, and deceitful religious conversion, though it’s their duty under Article 51A.

The petitioner also sought permission from the apex court to appoint a Committee to enact the Conversion of Religion Act. However, the Supreme Court has rejected the permission and the petitioner withdrew his plea. You may think that the petitioner may stop there but not in this case. Following the SC’s rejection of his plea, Upadhyay said that he will now approach the Law Ministry and the Law Commission for the enactment of laws to redress his grievances.

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The petitioner also sought permission from the apex court to appoint a Committee to enact the Conversion of Religion Act. However, the Supreme Court has rejected the permission and the petitioner withdrew his plea. You may think that the petitioner may stop there but not in this case. Following the SC’s rejection of his plea, Upadhyay said that he will now approach the Law Ministry and the Law Commission for the enactment of laws to redress his grievances.

Religious conversions have been taking place in India for centuries. Mostly, people convert as a decision taken by them and not forced by anyone. Some people do it so that they can get married to someone they are in love with. However, there have been alleged incidents of forceful conversions and these cases are often raised by political parties having religious affiliations.

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The opposition slammed the BJP-ruled states for designing legislation to counter the forceful conversion and said it was against secularism. This point is important as Upadhyay mentioned in his plea “that religious conversion by ‘hook or crook’ not only offends Articles 14, 21, 25 but is also against the principles of ‘secularism’, which is an integral part of the basic structure of the Constitution”. Usage of words I tell you.

We have heard of many cases where several right-wing workers have used the Love Jihad law to harass inter-faith couples. Nobody can forget the incident where a woman suffered a miscarriage after being heckled by a group of men, draped in orange scarves in Uttar Pradesh. Last year, Bajrang Dal activists brought the 22-year-old woman, her husband, and his brother to the police for allegedly committing love jihad. The police sent the young lady to a government shelter and put the men behind bars. At the time of her detention, she was seven weeks pregnant.

Days later, news broke the woman alleged she suffered a miscarriage while in custody. In December 2020, a local court allowed her to return to her husband's home after she told the magistrate that she was an adult and had married the Muslim man by choice. Despite the woman returning home, her husband and brother-in-law remained behind bars.

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The Uttar Pradesh Government had approached the Supreme Court with a plea to transfer all petitions challenging the ‘love jihad’ ordinance filed in the Allahabad High Court to the apex court. However, Chief Justice SA Bobde rejected the plea asking why the SC should interfere if the High Court is going to decide the cases.

The Allahabad HC has often come to the rescue of inter-faith couples when they are wrongly accused of Love Jihad. The court has often issued the verdict in favour of the couples. In most of these cases, the women told the HC that it was their own decision to convert and marry the person irrespective of religion. The Court has also pointed that it doesn’t see Hindu-Muslim when it comes to such couples.

As Justice Nariman bench pointed out that such petitions seeking a ban on religious conversions are indeed harmful. However, the apex court has also turned down petitions asking for a stay on the anti-conversion laws. In February 2021, the Supreme Court turned down a petition seeking a stay on the anti-conversion laws passed in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh to regulate interfaith marriages, and instead asked the petitioner to approach High Court first.

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