UP Unlawful Religious Conversion Ordinance – UPSC GS1

The Uttar Pradesh government has given its nod to U.P. Unlawful Religious Conversion Prohibition Ordinance, 2020.
  • The ordinance makes religious conversion a non-bailable offence inviting penalties up to 10 years in prison if found to be effected for marriage or through misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or other allegedly fraudulent means.
    • General and Adult : Violation of the provisions of the law would invite a jail term of not less than one year extendable to five years with a fine of ₹15,000.
    • SC/ST and Minor : If a minor woman or a woman from the Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribes communities was converted through the said unlawful means, the jail term would be a minimum of three years and could be extended to 10 years with a fine of ₹25,000.
  • The ordinance also lays down strict action, including cancellation of registration of social organisations conductisng mass conversions.
    • Mass conversions would invite a jail term of not less than three years up to 10 years and a fine of ₹50,000, reads the operative statement on the ordinance.
    • In case of conversion done by a woman for the sole purpose of marriage, the marriage would be declared null and void.
  • The burden to prove that conversion was not done through misrepresentation would be on the person converting or those who facilitated it.
  • A person seeking to convert to another religion for marriage would have to inform the district magistrate two months prior to it through a prescribed form.
Arguments against this ordinance:
  • An attempt to police the private lives and beliefs of citizens.
  • Against “freedom of religion”.
  • After the Court’s “right to privacy” judgment, and the Shafin Jahan-Hadiya case (2018), it would be no more constitutional to use “marriage” as a ground for prohibiting conversion, as it involves the rights of privacy, choice and marital freedom. The right to marry a person of one’s choice is guaranteed under Article 21.
  • An inter-faith marriage, by itself, is unlikely to be seen by the courts as an event impinging on public order. Therefore, making marriage per se a ground for rendering conversion illegal would not survive judicial scrutiny.
  • The U.P. ordinance uses the term “allurement by marriage”, but this phrase can be misused.
  • The provision on the mandatory prior declaration of an intent to convert is similar to the one struck down by the Himachal Pradesh High Court in 2012 as violating the right to keep one’s faith a secret.
Related Questions:
Anti-conversion laws barring inter-faith marriages will lead to the path of social regression. Discuss.
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