Inter-faith marriages: SC allows HP, MP to be made parties in the matter

The Supreme Court on Wednesday allowed an NGO to make Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh as parties in a pending matter challenging their controversial laws regulating conversions due to inter-faith marriages.

A bench headed by Chief Justice S. A. Bobde and comprising Justices A.S. Bopanna and V. Ramasubramanian also permitted Muslim body Jamiat Ulama-I-Hind to become a party in the matter. Advocate Ejaz Maqbool, representing the Muslim body, contended before the bench that a large number of Muslims men are being harassed under these laws in various parts of the country.

Senior advocate C.U. Singh, representing the NGO Citizens for Justice and Peace, urged the top court to make Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh as parties in the matter. Singh said these states have also framed laws on the lines of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

Last month, the top court had agreed to examine the controversial laws of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, which aimed at regulating religious conversions due to interfaith marriages. However, the top court had declined to stay these laws and sought response from the state governments in the matter.

The petitions filed by advocate Vishal Thakre, the NGO and others have challenged the constitutional validity of the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion Ordinance, 2020 and the Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion Act, 2018 which regulate religious conversions of interfaith marriages.

The controversial UP ordinance is connected with not only inter-faith marriages but all religious conversions and lays down elaborate procedures for any person who wishes to convert to another religion.

The Uttarakhand law entails two-year jail term to any person or persons found guilty of religious conversion through force or “allurement”, which could be cash, in kind of employment, or material benefit.

In its application Jamiat Ulama-I-Hind has raised the issue of fundamental rights of Muslim youth who are being allegedly targeted by using the ordinance.