The Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion Ordinance, 2020 was passed by the UP State Cabinet on 24 November 2020 and received the governor’s assent on 28 November 2020. Article 213 of the Indian Constitution allows the Governor of the state to promulgate ordinances when the parliament is not in session. This ordinance remains valid for a period of six months and six weeks until the house brings a law in its place. It was promulgated by the state under the head “maintaining public order”, which is a State subject to control the growing conversion from one religion to another religion by unlawful means.
Till the time there has been no central law that regulates religious conversions in the country. Many states across the country like Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Uttrakhand and Himachal Pradesh have passed their own laws on “Freedom of Religion” to regulate religious conversions in their respective states. On the lines of the Uttar Pradesh government, the Madhya Pradesh cabinet has also approved the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religious Ordinance, 2020. States like Karnataka and Haryana are also planning to bring in a similar law.
The Supreme Court in 1977 upheld the anti-conversion laws and stated that religious conversion can be regulated by the government even though the propagation of religion is a fundamental right of citizens. In accordance with this, the UP ordinance seeks to outlaw the practice of coercive religious conversion and to ensure it’s every citizen the freedom of religion.
WHAT THE ORDINANCE PROVIDES
The laws are applicable to the whole of Uttar Pradesh. As per the ordinance, no person is allowed to convert or make an attempt to convert any other person from one religion to another by way of force, undue influence, coercion, allurement, misrepresentation, or by any other deceitful measures. Marriage for the purpose of conversion is also deemed unlawful by law and such marriage will be declared void.
If a person reconverts back to his immediate previous religion or parental religion (religion of individual’s father), such conversion shall not come under this ordinance.
In relation to marriage between two individuals of different religions, the law considers it illegal if a man or a woman converts their religion for the sole purpose of marriage or marry to convert their religion. Such a marriage can be declared void by the Family Court.
Who all can be charged with the offences?
A complaint under this act can be lodged against any person, who performs an act which is an offence, who acts or fails to act that aids the commission of an offence, who assist any offence, or who advises or induces another person to commit the offence.
Who can file a complaint?
An FIR can be lodged by the aggrieved person; his/her parents, brother, sister, or any other person who is related to the victim by blood, marriage, or adoption for the unlawful conversion under this ordinance.
Process of Conversion
The ordinance provides an extensive process for conversion of one’s religion. It states that the person who wishes to convert his religion as well as the person managing the conversion, i.e. religious converters, needs to submit a declaration in advance of the proposed religious conversion to the District Magistrate (DM). The notice has to be given 60 days in advance by the person willing to convert. Also the religious converter will have to fill a form giving 30-day notice to the DM. After receiving the notice, the DM conducts a police investigation of the individuals to know the intention and reason behind such conversion.
Within 60 days of the conversion, the person who has converted his religion has to submit a declaration that would also contain his various personal details. This declaration should be submitted to the DM. A copy of it will be displayed in the public and any member of the public could raise his/her objections to the conversion.
Further, within 21 days of submission of the declaration, the individual who has converted must appear before the DM for the verification of his identity and other confirmations.
If one fails to adhere to any of the abovementioned prescribed conversion and post-conversion processes, the conversion would not be granted and be declared null and void.
Burden of Proof
As per the ordinance, the burden of proof as to whether a religious conversion is lawful or not lies on the person who has caused the conversion or has facilitated such conversion.
All the offences committed under this Ordinance are cognizable and non-bailable. The punishment is determined by who is being converted. For mass conversion, i.e. conversion of two or more people at the same time, the offender has to pay a fine of at least Rs. 50000 along with an imprisonment term of 3-10 years, which may vary as per the severity of the wrong done.
A fine amount of at least Rs. 25000 is imposed together with a jail term of 2-10 years if the person being converted is a woman, minor, or one belonging to SC/ST tribe. For any other conversion, the offender has to pay a fine of at least Rs. 15000 and an imprisonment term of 1-5 years.
Also, the victim will receive a compensation of Rs. 5 lakhs which has to be paid by the accused. For the recurrence of an act that is a crime under this ordinance, the person perpetrating it will have to bear double the punishment specified for that offence.
In case of such offences carried out by an organisation, the ordinance provides for respective punishment to its head in addition to the cancellation of the license of the registered company and restriction of any financial aid or grants the organisation receives from the State government.
ANALYSIS AND CONCLUSION
The law was passed in an emergency as an ordinance when the State Cabinet was not in session. But the government could still not describe the urgent situation that an ordinance had to be promulgated. No such immediate action was necessitated and the public order was duly preserved in the state yet it was passed solely to find a way around the hot debates on the topic of religious conversion in the state cabinet. Also, many people believe that the ordinance was brought with the only intent to limit the growing cases of love-jihad in the state.
Scores of petitions were filed in the Allahabad High court as well as the Supreme Court challenging the ordinance on the ground that it violates the fundamental right of the citizens. It puts a restraint on the right of the people to choose and profess a religion of their choice which is a fundamental right enshrined in Article 25 of the Indian constitution. The law is also violative of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution as it lays a threat on the personal liberty of an individual. Not only this, but it also dictates a highly structured and complicated process for those people who wish to convert their religion.
It is the duty of the state to secure the right to choice of the religion of all its citizens. Therefore necessary and proportionate actions must be taken by the government to provide protection to the rights of those who are forced to convert their religion. But in order to protect the rights of its few citizens, the government should not put at stake the rights of all its citizens.
Even in criminal cases, it is presumed that the accused is innocent unless proved. But this ordinance presupposes every accused person guilty of having committed the offence. The burden of proof lies entirely on the accused and if due to uncertain circumstances he is not able to prove his innocence, he will be deemed to have committed the offence. Due to this provision, many innocent people can suffer in spite of being at no fault.
Just after the law was put in force, many complaints were lodged. As many as 51 complaints were filed within 1 month. Out of those, only 2 cases were found to be genuine where the victims have complained. Because of its wide and far-reaching provisions, so many innocent people who are not at fault have to suffer. Already many stories have come up of large-scale arrests and many more of separation. A law that is so blind will do more bad than good.
- SCC Online, Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion Ordinance, 2020 < https://www.scconline.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/UP_Prohibition_of_Unlawful_Conversion_of_Religion_Ordinance_2020.pdf> accessed on 24 January 2021
- The Economic Times, Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion Ordinance, 2020, Explained < https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/et-explains/the-up-prohibition-of-unlawful-conversion-of-religion-ordinance-2020-explained/articleshow/79717402.cms> accessed on 24 January 2021
- NDTV, UP’s Anti-Conversion Law “Unconstitutional”, Say 4 Former Judges < https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/love-jihad-ups-anti-conversion-law-unconstitutional-say-4-former-judges-2340694> accessed on 25 January 2021
- PRS, Anti-Conversion Legislation: Comparision of the UP ordinances with other state laws by Anoop Ramakrishnan (17 December 2020) <https://www.prsindia.org/theprsblog/anti-conversion-legislation-comparison-up-ordinance-other-state-laws> accessed on 24 January 2021
- The Indian Express, UP anti-conversion law amounts to discrimination and a violation of the right to equality, < https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/up-anti-conversion-law-love-jihad-7109029/> accessed on 25 January 2021
She is a first year student of B.B.A. LL.B at Symbiosis Law School, Noida.