The Supreme Court on Monday heard two public interest litigations (‘PILs’) challenging anti-conversion laws passed in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarkhand, Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh which inter alia seek to prohibit religious conversion by marriage and make it mandatory to give notice of conversion to the state authorities.
A division bench comprising Chief Justice of India Dr. D.Y. Chandrachud and P.S. Narishma adjourned the matter by two weeks since there was a lack of clarity on facts in view of the challenge pending before different high courts. The bench asked the counsel appearing in the matter to file short notes outlining the challenge made, and the status of the case before the high courts concerned.
Appearing for Citizens For Justice And Peace, a non-government organisation, senior advocate C.U. Singh pressed for an interim stay of the legislation passed by the states of Uttarakhand and Himachal. The bench said it would have to hear the counsel for the state governments before passing the order.
Senior advocate Indira Jaising apprised the bench of the interim stay orders passed by two high courts, namely, the High Court of Gujarat and the High Court of Madhya Pradesh. She added that the Gujarat government is already in appeal before the Supreme Court, which is pending consideration. She informed the bench that she would be filing a transfer petition seeking the transfer of the petitions pending at the Madhya Pradesh high court to the Supreme Court since the legislation passed by different states are pari materia (dealing with the same matter) in nature.
On August 20, 2021, the Gujarat High Court, in an interim order, stayed the operation of several sections of the Gujarat Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Act, 2021, including the provision that termed interfaith marriages as a means for forced conversion. The Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act, 2003 was initially brought into force in April 2003.
According to the then Section 3 of the 2003 Act, there was a prohibition of conversion of any person from one religion to another by use of force or allurement or by any fraudulent means. However, by the amendment made in 2021, a marriage itself was presumed to be a medium for unlawful conversion if the marriage was by way of allurement, force, or by fraudulent means.
The high court opined that a plain reading of section 3 would indicate that any conversion on account of marriage is also prohibited.
On November 11, 2022, a division bench of the Madhya Pradesh high court, in a batch of petitions, stayed the operation of Section 10 of the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2021. Section 10 makes it obligatory for a citizen desiring conversion to give a declaration in this regard to the District Magistrate.
Though the challenge to the law made by the Uttar Pradesh government is pending before the Allahabad High Court, no interim stay has been granted by it.