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'Harassment Of Inter-Faith Couples, Invasion Of Privacy' : Jamiat Ulama-I-Hind Moves Supreme Court Challenging Anti-Conversion Laws Of 5 States

Padmakshi Sharma
5 Jan 2023 3:43 PM GMT
Religious Conversion

Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind has filed a Public Interest Litigation challenging the constitutional validity of conversion laws across the country. The challenged acts include the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition Of Unlawful Conversion Of Religion Act, 2021, the Uttarakhand Freedom Of Religion Act, 2018, the Himachal Pradesh Freedom Of Religion Act, 2019, the Madhya Pradesh Freedom Of Religion Act, 2021 and the Gujarat Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Act, 2021. Previously, Citizen for Peace and Justice (CJP) had challenged the Acts in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh on the ground that the acts reversed the burden of proof and were against Constitution Bench judgements of Supreme Court which had held that the right to choose a partner was a part of privacy.

As per the petition filed by Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind through Advocate Ejaz Maqbool, the Acts in question invade a person's privacy by forcing them to disclose their faith. Further, the Acts entitle the family members to lodge an FIR and "virtually give them a fresh tool for harassing the convert". The petition while adding that the Acts are being misused by disgruntled family members, cites a news report published by India Today on December 29, 2020 which states that within one month of the Uttar Pradesh Ordinance, 14 cases were registered out of which only 2 were based on complaints by the victims and rest of the cases arose out of the complaints by family members.

The petition argues that the Acts are also liable to be set aside for its definition of ‘allurement’ as it includes undue influence offers offers of divine displeasure. It is submitted that the phrase ‘undue influence’ is too wide and vague and the attainment of salvation in the world thereafter is central to most major religions. "Therefore, a religious preacher who simply states that following the teachings of his religion alone will enable a person to attain salvation would render himself liable for prosecution under the aforementioned Acts. Therefore, the Impugned Acts will stifle religious preaching and even practice of religion due to the vague and stringent nature of its provisions," the petition states.

While stating that the Acts will have a chilling effect on the right to profess and propagate one’s religion, which is enshrined in Article 25 of the Constitution of India, the petition argues that the Acts also attempt to regulate a personal decision of each human being by encroaching upon an individual’s choice to convert to a religion of his/her choice. As per the petition–

"Scrutiny by the state of such a personal decision is a grave assault on personal liberty of an individual and is violative of Articles 21 and 25 of the Constitution of India."

The petitioner also highlight that the Acts in question reverse the rule of burden of proof in criminal law.

"It is submitted that burden of proof in criminal cases is on the prosecution, and the presumption is that a person accused of committing an offence is innocent until proven guilty. However, the Acts proceed on the presumption that each religious conversion is illegal. Further, the provisions of Section 12 of the Himachal Pradesh Act, Section 13 of the Uttarakhand Act, Section 12 of the Uttar Pradesh Act and Section 12 of the Gujarat Act put the burden to prove that the conversion is not illegal on the person who has converted," argues the petition.

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