Constitutionality of Anti-Conversion Laws
Citizens for Justice and Peace v State of Uttar Pradesh
The Court will decide if the anti-conversion laws passed by multiple States including Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand are constitutionally valid.
Petitioner: Citizens for Justice and Peace
Lawyers: C.U. Singh ;Tanima Kishore; Srishti Agnihotri
Respondent: State of Uttar Pradesh; State of Uttarakhand; State of Maharashtra; State of Gujarat
Lawyers: Vanshaja Shukla; Ruchira Goel; Abhinav Mukerji
Do the anti-conversion laws restrict the rights to choice, privacy, personal liberty, marriage, and dignity given under Article 21?
Do the anti-conversion laws violate the freedoms of religion and conscience under Article 25?
In 2018, the State of Uttarakhand introduced a law “to provide freedom of religion” specifically in instances of religious conversion by force, misrepresentation, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means or by marriage. In 2020, Uttar Pradesh followed suit, enacting an ordinance that imposed similar restrictions. The laws punished unlawful religious conversion for the purpose of marriage. Further, a declaration clause compelled any person intending to convert their religion to inform the government at least one month in advance.
In December 2020, the Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), a Mumbai-based NGO, filed a Writ Petition in the Supreme Court challenging the constitutional validity of the laws. CJP stated that the laws were enacted as a result of a ‘baseless rhetoric’ known as ‘love-jihad’. They argued that the provisions violate the right to personal liberty, freedom of choice, privacy and conscience as they intentionally prevent inter-faith marriages.
The term ‘love-jihad’ has been used to describe interfaith marriages where the Muslim man is accused of wooing a Hindu woman to convert her to Islam. Interestingly, Ministers from Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, and Karnataka publicly promised to bring laws against ‘love-jihad’.
In their petition, CJP relied on the case of Shafin Jahan v. Asokan K.M. (2018) where the Supreme Court held that the right to change religion is a fundamental right. Additionally, they relied upon KS Puttaswamy v Union of India (2017), Shakti Vahini v. Union of India (2018) and Indian Young Lawyers Association vs The State of Kerala (2019) which elaborated the role of privacy, choice and religious beliefs for maintaining dignity. The petition was heard by a 3-Judge Bench headed by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde and Justices V. Ramasubramanian and A.S. Bopanna. The Bench issued notices to the concerned States.
Two other States namely, Himachal Pradesh (2019) & Madhya Pradesh (2020) enacted similar Anti-Conversion laws. The laws contained provisions analogous to that of Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh. In February 2021, CJP filed an application to include these enactments under their original petition. The Bench led by Chief Justice Bobde allowed the application. On January 16th, 2023, a 3-Judge Bench led by Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud with Justices P.S. Narasimha and J.B. Pardiwala started hearing the petition.
As the CJP petition remains pending, the States of Gujarat (2021), Haryana (2022) and Karnataka (2022) have enacted their own Anti-Conversion laws. However, on August 19th, 2021 the Gujarat High Court put a stay on several sections of the Gujarat Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Act. On November 14th, 2022, the Madhya Pradesh High Court struck down the declaration clause of the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act. The State of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh have appealed in the Supreme Court. A petition challenging the Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Ordinance, 2022 is pending in the Karnataka High Court.
On January 5th, 2023, the Jamiat-Ulama-i-Hind filed a new petition in the Supreme Court challenging the validity of the anti-conversion laws of Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat.