SC to hear pleas challenging laws regulating conversions due to interfaith marriages

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday said it would hear on February 3 a batch of pleas challenging controversial state laws regulating religious conversions due to interfaith marriages.

A bench comprising Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and justices PS Narasimha and JB Pardiwala noted that a transfer plea was mentioned in the morning.

“We can list it, issue notice and hear it together. The transfer petition will also be numbered by then. The attorney general can also examine. We will hear all on Friday,” the bench said.

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During the brief hearing, senior advocate CU Singh, appearing in the court on behalf of NGO “Citizens for Justice and Peace” of activist Teesta Setalwad, submitted that people cannot get married due to these state laws and the situation is very grave.

Attorney General R Venkataramani submitted that these are state legislations that have been challenged before the apex court and the high courts concerned should hear the cases.

The top court had earlier asked the parties challenging the anti-conversion laws of several states to file a common petition seeking a transfer of the cases on the issue from various high courts to the apex court.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta had challenged the locus standi of “Citizens for Justice and Peace”, which is one of the petitioners. Mehta had not elaborated on the reasons for questioning the NGO’s locus.

The bench had noted that there were at least five such pleas “before the Allahabad High Court, seven before the Madhya Pradesh High Court, two each before the Gujarat and Jharkhand high courts, three before the Himachal Pradesh High Court, and one each before the Karnataka and Uttarakhand high courts”, and said a common petition for their transfer can be filed.

Besides, two separate petitions have been filed by Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, challenging the interim orders of the respective high courts that stayed certain provisions of the state laws on conversion.

Earlier, a bench headed by Justice M R Shah had said religious conversion is a serious issue that should not be given a political colour.

It had sought the attorney general’s assistance on the plea filed by advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay.

Another bench headed by the CJI had, on January 2, sought to know the status of the cases pending before different high courts challenging controversial state laws regulating religious conversion due to interfaith marriages and said if the cases are similar in nature, it may transfer those to itself.

It had asked “Citizens for Justice and Peace” and the states of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh to apprise it of the status of the cases challenging the state laws on conversion through marriage.

The apex court had, on January 6, 2021, agreed to examine certain new and controversial laws of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, regulating religious conversions due to interfaith marriages.

The Uttar Pradesh law relates to not only interfaith marriages but all religious conversions and lays down elaborate procedures for anyone who wishes to convert to another religion.

The Uttarakhand law entails a two-year jail term for those found guilty of religious conversion through “force or allurement”. The allurement can be in the form of cash, employment or material benefits.

The plea filed by the NGO has alleged that the legislations violate articles 21 and 25 of the Constitution as those empower the State to suppress an individual’s personal liberty and freedom to practise the religion of his choice.

Jamiat Ulama-I-Hind has also moved the Supreme Court, challenging the anti-conversion laws of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. It has contended that these laws have been enacted to “harass” interfaith couples and implicate them in criminal cases.

The Muslim body, in its PIL filed through advocate Ejaz Maqbool, has said the provisions of all such laws of the five states force people to disclose their faith and consequently, invade their privacy.

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