A Tale of Two Indias: As UP Makes First “Love Jihad” Arrests, High Courts Endorse Freedom of Choice

Social Commentary

A Tale of Two Indias: As UP Makes First “Love Jihad” Arrests, High Courts Endorse Freedom of Choice

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

At this time last year, the term “love jihad” was a bogeyman brandished by right wingers. But today, as several BJP-ruled states in the country – Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, and Assam – promulgate laws against love jihad, it’s become a topic of national concern. Those who support the laws see it as a much-needed step against forced conversions, but its critics have voiced concerns that these laws will curb the personal freedoms of Indian citizens. Since Uttar Pradesh passed an ordinance – The Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020 – last month, two arrests have been made in the state under its provisions.

In the first case, Owais Ahmad, a 21-year-old Muslim man from Bareilly was arrested after allegedly threatening the family of a girl he was attempting to convert to Islam. The second was also from Bareilly, where Tahir Hussain was arrested after an FIR was filed against him on November 30 under UP government’s new ordinance.

The Yogi Adityanath government is also planning to scrap a 44-year-old scheme that incentivises inter-faith marriage.

However, while the legislative and executive branches of the government seem to be set on enforcing controversial laws, the judiciary in two states, including UP, has upheld the right of consenting adults to cohabit peacefully and marry the person of their choice.

On November 23, the Allahabad High Court struck down its previous judgement, which stated “religious conversion just for the purpose of marriage is unacceptable, terming it as being “not good in law”. Interestingly, UP Chief Minister Adityanath had earlier referred to the struck-down judgement while announcing his government’s new ordinance to criminalise “love jihad”. But India’s courts have recognised that laws like the new “love jihad” ordinances being formulated interfere with personal liberties.

Just this week, the Karnataka High Court also recognised the right of individuals to marry according to their choice, calling it a “fundamental right enshrined in the Constitution of India”. Another bench of the Allahabad High Court declared that two adults in a live-in relationship have the right to cohabit peacefully, stating that the court had “settled the law that where a boy and a girl are major and they are living with their free will, then nobody including their parents has authority to interfere with their living together.”

An op-ed published in Indian Express by Abhinav Chandrachud, an advocate of the Bombay High Court, examines the ways in which the UP government’s ordinance could be used to curb constitutional freedoms. He writes that ordinance “as it is presently drafted, dangerously imperils the freedom of conscience and the right to profess, practise and propagate religion under Article 25 of the Constitution.”

As the manufactured paranoia over “love jihad” continues to sweep across India, the proposed laws to stop it might be found in contravention of the Indian Constitution.