Interfaith marriage in India has never been as fraught with complications as it is now. In the name of preventing unlawful conversions, several state governments are considering implementing a similar law to the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, which prescribed jail sentences for those found guilty of attempting to influence a person to change their religion. The ordinance, promulgated by UP’s government on November 24, was pushed through based on an order by the Allahabad High Court that stated religious conversion only for the sake of marriage was not acceptable. Even though Allahabad HC later struck down the order that the ordinance – colloquially called the “love jihad law” – was based on for being “bad in law”, the new legislation has been used to harass interfaith couples and make arrests in the state on multiple occasions.
While UP’s “love jihad law” has already received criticism for endangering religious freedom in India, it has also been pointed out how this law strips away the autonomy of adult women. According to the government that drafted the ordinance, a grown woman can have a career, vote, and drive, but still requires the state’s and society’s approval when it comes to choosing a life partner. There have already been cases reported in the news of UP police making arrests and forcefully separating Hindu wives from their Muslim husbands under the new ordinance, even when the women insist that the marriage was consensual. In Moradabad, the case of a pregnant woman suffering a miscarriage while her husband was under arrest became a sordid case study of how the “love jihad law” could affect women who chose an interfaith marriage.
Even while other states consider implementing similar laws (which will no doubt be accompanied by similar problems), there is a glimmer of hope in recent rulings by the Allahabad HC. While UP’s legislature might have rammed the ordinance through, the state’s judiciary becomes the last line of defence for the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religion. On Sunday, November 27, the Allahabad HC reunited an interfaith Hindu-Muslim couple while also quashing an FIR against the Muslim husband on charges of abduction. “As the corpus has attained the age of majority and she has a choice to live her life on her own terms… She has expressed that she wants to live with her husband Salman, she is free to move as per her own choice without any restriction or hindrance being created by third party,” the court said.
This latest ruling is the latest example of the courts upholding constitutional rights in the face of what has been called a piece of vague and potentially oppressive legislation. In addition to the court reuniting the couple on Sunday and striking down its own order stating religious conversion for the purpose of marriage was invalid, the court had also ruled on December 3 that two consenting adults in a relationship can live together even without the approval of their families.
Though the love jihad laws infantilises Hindu women, assuming them to be incapable of choosing their own partner, the HC’s rulings are encouraging. Even if our politicians don’t view Indian women as independent, at least the courts still do.