NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Wednesday refused to stay the anti-love jihad laws enacted by Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand to regulate conversions, but issued notices to the two state governments, seeking response within four weeks.
A Bench headed by Chief Justice Sharad Arvind Bobde said it can't decide which provisions of the two laws are oppressive unless it hears out the two state governments.
The court is hearing petitions challenging an Ordinance promulgated by the UP government regulating inter-faith marriages and religious conversions and a similar Act enacted in Uttarakhand in 2018.
When the petitioner pointed out that the BJP governments in Madhya Pradesh and Haryana are also bringing similar laws impacting the entire society, the CJI said the laws of only two states are under challenge and it won't expand the petition's scope.
The Bench, also comprising Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian, however, agreed to examine the validity of the Ordinance and the laws.
The petitions filed by Delhi-based lawyer Vishal Thakre and Mumbai's NGO, Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), under Article 32 of the Constitution, state that the two laws are violative of Articles 21 and 25, as they empower the State to suppress an individual’s personal liberty and the freedom to practice religion of one's choice.
The Uttarakhand and UP laws essentially bar conversion to any other religion for the purposes of marriage.
The UP Ordinance lays down a detailed procedure to be followed before an individual can convert from one religion to another. Violation of the same entails criminal liability on the individual who undergoes conversion and the individual who converts the person.
The Ordinance also states that no person shall convert or attempt to convert either directly or otherwise any other person from one religion to another by use or practice of misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means or by marriage; nor shall any person abet, convince or conspire such conversion.
The petitioners submitted that the two laws seemed to be premised on conspiracy theories and assume that all conversions are illegally forced upon individuals, though they have attained the age of majority. It intrudes into the right to privacy under Article 21 of the Constitution and freedom of religion under Article 25, it was contended.
The plea also highlighted that the UP Ordinance casts the burden of proof on the accused against the established principles of criminal jurisprudence. "The burden of proof gets shifted and it is dangerous as it is a non bailable offence,’’ one of the petitions said.
Initially, CJI Bobde was not in favour of issuing notice after Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta informed the court that both the challenges are pending in the respective High Courts.
The Bench, however, agreed to hear the cases, when the petitioners argued that the Supreme Court can take up cases which are pending in different high courts.