New Delhi: Marriage is increasingly used as an instrument of coercion to convert individuals from one religion to another and also to fuel terrorist activity, the government of Uttar Pradesh has told the High Court of Allahabad while defending a new controversial anti-conversion law that he claimed, will guarantee all individuals “an equal moral belonging to society”.
In an affidavit responding to a series of public interest litigation (PIL) challenging the 2021 Prohibition of Illegal Conversion of Religion Act, the state government noted that when “marriage is one of the instruments which are abused to illegally convert individuals â, the state cannot abdicate its responsibility to regulate the alliance of two adults.
âTo love is to live better, but the action of an individual to love cannot be eroded by exerting undue influence on him and forcibly converting him to a different religion under the guise of a better style of life. The institution of marriage is the foundation of the deepest hopes and aspirations of every individual. To ignore such an institution and use it as an instrumental conversion of the soul goes against the very ideals of our constitution, which is based on the idea of ââindividual autonomy, âthe affidavit said.
Challenging issues surrounding the possible invasion of individual privacy by regulating something as personal as a marriage, the UP government said that while agency and an individual’s ability to love can unequivocally within the realm of privacy, “this does not mean that a welfare state should relinquish its responsibility to ensure that such an agency is not threatened by external factors such as coercion, fraud, etc., which are very contagious to society and are a matter of great concern. “
According to the affidavit, the Act seeks to ensure that an individual’s decision to convert to another religion is “theirs and theirs alone” since forced conversions go to the heart of personal autonomy and undermine the sense of self-reliance. identity and dignity of an individual.
The UP government passed the law, commonly known as the âlove-jihadâ law in February this year, after promulgating the ordinance on the same subject in November 2020. The law provides for a prison term of up to ” to 10 years and a fine of up to ??50,000 for conversion under marriage, fraud, coercion or seduction.
The ordinance came into effect days after Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath pledged to fight the “jihad of love,” a term used by some right-wing groups to describe the relationship between Muslim men and women. Hindu.
Several activists and legal experts have argued that the law could be used to target Muslims and undermine basic rights to equality, freedom of religion, life and personal liberty.
But the state, in its affidavit filed Friday in a court headed by Judge Munishwar Nath Bhandari, argued that although the 2021 law deals with illegal conversions and marriage is merely incidental, there are early reports of information (FIR) as well as a report by the Uttar Pradesh counterterrorism team to show that the social fabric of the state is threatened by a wave of forced conversions.
Statistics submitted by the state showed that a total of 79 prosecutions had been initiated on charges of illegal conversion between January 1, 2020 and July 6, 2021. The ATS report for August 2021 asserted that there is a union in UP to illegally convert men. and the transactions of women to Islam and hawala were involved in the funding of these activities.
âThere is a compelling state interest in preventing disproportionate forced conversions of women in the state. Forced conversion strikes at the heart of personal autonomy and individual action. This compelling state interest is also reinforced when it is revealed that such conversions are being used as an instrument for terrorist activity and have been tested from a national security perspective, âthe affidavit said.
If the impact of the legislation is tested, the state argued, it would appear that the legislation has a direct impact on terrorists and terrorist organizations that have been probed by the state’s ATS.
“There is ample data in the public records which shows that the forced conversions in fact created a fear-psychosis in the state which in turn justified the need for such legislation … The impugned act seeks to restore the autonomy of all those individuals who have been forcibly and illegally converted from one religion to another. By giving them back the religion they practice voluntarily and freely, then Act fulfills the promise of equal citizenship and equal moral belonging, âthe affidavit stated.
Through the contested law, the government said, the state seeks to protect freedom of conscience in the interests of public order, health and constitutional morals by ensuring that an individual’s choice to marry and then to convert to another religion be enlightened.
Adding that legislation of an identical nature exists in at least eight other states, including Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Uttarakhand and Haryana, the affidavit indicates that the law prescribes the “least restrictive measure” available with the ‘State to prevent illegal conversions, especially since the collective interest must always prevail over individual interest.
“There is no hindrance that has been placed under the law to take away the freedom of conscience of an individual and the individual is not required to follow the procedure prescribed by law while exercising the freedom to change. of belief and faith in worship. This exercise is necessary because there has to be an investigation at some point and the law has been established that the best investigation in these kinds of matters can be conducted at the executive level, âthe affidavit stated.
The UP government has clarified that any voluntary conversion by an individual made of his own volition does not attract the provisions of the impugned act, but the burden of proof as to whether a religious conversion has not been affected by misrepresentation, fraud or coercion or by marriage has to be placed on the person who caused the conversion.
“Conversion being one of the cases that usually goes unreported due to asymmetry of power, socio-cultural and institutional factors, a devaluation of personal identity or a general fear of a societal backlash. , the reversal of charge clause is a solution which helps to achieve the rescue of the victim and the punishment of the accused, âstates the affidavit.
She also defended the provision giving family members the right under the law to register FIRs in such cases. “By reiterating an already codified law according to which parents have the power to file an FIR against such conversions, the attacked law in effect guarantees that each individual is granted equal moral membership in society and reduced autonomy of the constrained individual, he does not. that they are part of a relationship or a religion that they would not voluntarily choose, âstressed the state.
The High Court is expected to hear the case on November 15 after the applicants file their responses to the state government’s position.