ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Juxtaposing ‘Honour’ with Women’s Agency

Rights and Wrongs of Anti-conversion Law(s)

The legal ramifications of the recently promulgated Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020 are examined by juxtaposing popular perceptions of inter-religious marriages as “dishonourable” to the concerned families and communities, with a feminist perspective of women’s agency and exercise of choice in marriage. The key to preventing the phenomenon of conversion for marriage lies not in enacting draconian legislations that arm the state machinery with arbitrary powers, but in streamlining and simplifying procedures under the Special Marriage Act, 1954 that allow for inter-religious marriages without religious conversion of either person.

In December 2020, the Lucknow Police prevented a consensual inter-religious marriage between a Hindu woman and a Muslim man after objections by a non-state, vigilante group (Rehman 2020). Following this, a Hindu woman in Mo­rada­bad who had converted to Islam of her own accord and married a Muslim man was reportedly brought to the police station by activists of a right-wing group. Her husband and his brother were arrested (Wire 2020a). In both cases, the women were consenting adults whose agency to choose a marriage partner was ignored by the police all in the name of “protecting” “gullible” Hindu women from “devious” Muslim men.

These incidents emerge in the context of the Uttar Pradesh (UP) Prohibition of Un­lawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020 (Uttar Pradesh Vidhi Virudh Dharma Samparivartan Pratishedh Adhyadesh, 2020), promulgated on 28 November 2020 in the midst of the pandemic, suggesting urgency on the part of the government for a law to curb unlawful conversions. However, despite this urgency, the government has released no official statistics in the public domain to indicate the scale of forced religious conversions in the context of marriage. In fact, a special investigation team of the UP police that investigated 14 cases of “suspicious” instances of Hindu–Muslim romance in Kanpur city concluded that in eight out of 14 cases, the Hindu women had either married Muslim men or lived with them of their own free will, while the other six cases continue to be under investigation (Rashid 2020).

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Updated On : 4th Jan, 2021

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