The UP cabinet cleared the Uttar Pradesh Vidhi Viruddh Dharm Samparivartan Adhyadesh 2020 or the UP Illegal Religious Conversion Ordinance 2020 yesterday. The CM Yogi Adityanath had promised on 31st of October that his government would bring a law to tackle “love jihad” and that perpetrators would be sent on “ram nam satya” journey if they do not mend ways.
#WATCH Allahabad HC said religious conversion isn't necessary for marriage. Govt will also work to curb 'Love-Jihad', we'll make a law. I warn those who conceal identity & play with our sisters' respect, if you don't mend your ways your 'Ram naam satya' journey will begin: UP CM pic.twitter.com/7Ddhz15inS
— ANI UP (@ANINewsUP) October 31, 2020
The law, brought through ordinance, would not only tackle the issue of grooming and religious targeting of Hindu girls by Muslim youth, but also address the issue of mass conversions, specially by christian evangelist organisations. As this is an ordinance, it would come into effect as soon as Governor signs on the same. This law will need to be passed by the state legislature within six months to become permanent.
The law has stringent provisions for the offenders. It prohibits conversion solely for the purpose of marriage and declares that such a marriage will be “shunya” i.e. null and void. In such cases, it also provides for jail term of 1-5 years and a minimum fine of Rs. 15000 for the perpetrator. In case, the girl is from SC or ST categories, the jail term is 3-10 years and a minimum fine of Rs. 25000.
Further, if it is found that the conversion is coerced i.e. “through atrocity and cheating”, the offence has been made non-bailable. The govt said that this law was brought to ensure law and order in the state. It also mentioned that more than a 100 such cases of conversion had recently come into light in the state.
Although the draft is not yet available for public, the law is also reported to have provisions targeting mass conversions organised by missionaries and other organisations. In case of mass conversions done through force or cheating, law mandates a fine of Rs. 50000 and jail term of 3-10 years. According to reports this law is based on a report sbmitted last year to the government by UP State Law Commission.
After this law comes into force, if a person has to change his/her religion after marriage, an application would have to be submitted to the district magistrate in advance. The conversion can take place only if the DM grants permission for the same.
If followed strictly, the legal impact of this last provision i.e. permission of magistrate if one wants to change religion after marriage, would be very beneficial for inter-faith marriages. As persons have to apply to change religion “after marriage” that means they have to marry under Special Marriage Act, unless the union is between a Christian and a Muslim. This will benefit the girl as now she will have rights that are otherwise not available to her. Firstly, under the act, both parties have to be monogamous. So the type of fraud where the girl finds out after marriage that the husband already has a wife cannot legally happen here. Secondly, both parties have the right to file for divorce, unlike under Islamic law, where only a man can divorce his wife. The divorce can be on many grounds like adultery, cruelty etc. so a girl would be protected in case she is in an abusive marriage. Thirdly, both parties have to be of age of consent i.e. girl must be at least 18 years old to marry. Under Islamic law, even a girl below 18 years can be married if she has attained puberty. Fourthly, this act also provides for alimony and maintenance in case of divorce. This remedy is not available under Islamic law after the Rajiv Gandhi government overturned the judgment in Shah Bano case. Thus, if marriage is under SMA, girl would not have to think about economic hardship before filing for divorce.
The other impact would be in cases of mass conversions by evangelists. The fine print would give more details, however it seems that at least now UP has a remedy for dealing with aggressive Christian conversion. It might also be applicable in cases where leaders of various groups threaten to convert en masse to Islam or other religions if their demands are not met.
Th judiciary has flip-flopped on the issue in absence of a clear law and perhaps due to personal biases. In a recent case, where conversion was from Islam to Hindu Dharma 30 days before marriage, it said that “conversion just for the sake of marriage is unacceptable”. In a more recent case, where conversion was from Hindu Dharma to Islam just 2 days before marriage, the same High Court said that “we do not see Priyanka Kharwar and Salamat Ansari as Hindu and Muslim, rather as two grown-up individuals”. This double speak, which exclusively hurts Hindus, will now stop after a clear law has been laid down.
However, all this will depend on the fact if the rules under the act are made accessible to common man. It would be great if the rules provide for free legal help in such cases and simplify the process of filing the complaint. As of now, the implementation of the act would largely depend on the police and judicial officers at the cutting edge.
This act should be welcomed as now the victims of grooming through fraud and deceit have at least some remedy in Uttar Pradesh. Other states should also follow the example. Haryana and MP have already declared their intention to bring a law on the issue.
The law is here, but still a lot has to be done. Following a bottom-up approach, parents have to inculcate Dharmic values in their children. There is a reason that Hindu girls and boys convert to other religions for marriage while the reverse happens rarely. The reason is not that Dharma is weak, but that Hindu children are not aware of Dharma. Police and judiciary need to be sensitized about the issue. Law can work only if there is wide spread acceptability and awareness of the same. A mass contact programme about grooming through TV, newspapers and online advertisements needs to be launched to make the people aware of the issue. The issue of compensation to victims remains. The government should provide some monetary compensation to the victims of grooming, at least if the victim is from an economically weaker family.
The law will no doubt be opposed by secularists and leftists on various grounds. However, the fact remains that the law is secular and is applicable as much on Hindu boy marrying a Muslim girl as otherwise. The unsaid insistence on getting the marriage registered under a secular act, Special Marriage Act, should also gladden the hearts of such critics if they really do value secularism and welfare of the girl.
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