Conversion for marriage stands banned. So interfaith couples wishing to marry will have to opt for the Special Marriage Act or risk a five-year prison term and annulment of their marriage if they convert before or after marriage. A first information report (FIR) in this regard can be lodged by the “aggrieved person, his/her parents, siblings, or any other person who is related to him/her by blood, marriage or adoption”, as per the UP Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religious Ordinance.
The first case under the new law was lodged in Bareilly on Saturday after parents of a Hindu girl filed an FIR that one Uwais Ahmed was forcibly trying to convert the religion of their daughter to marry her. Opposition parties raised the spectre of police harassment under the new law and the Samajwadi Party (SP) said it will object to the law in the state assembly. “Muslim men should see Hindu girls as their sisters. The law is meant to torture them and one must save oneself,” said SP MP ST Hasan.
Avneesh Awasthi, UP’s principal secretary (home) told ET that the state “will be fair in exercising the law” and that “the powers of the police do increase with any new law”. Nevertheless, the state law is more stringent than the existing law in Uttarakhand which banned conversions for marriage and provides for a one-month notice before conversion. UP has doubled this to two months, giving the police more time for inquiries to determine “the real intention, purpose and cause” of the proposed conversion.
Another provision that UP has introduced is that after the process leads to permission for religious conversion, the person has to submit a declaration within two months of the conversion and appear before the district magistrate within 21 days to establish one’s identity, so as to confirm the conversion. “The DM shall exhibit the copy of the declaration on the notice board of the office till the date of confirmation. If any objections are notified, he (the DM) may simply record them (in a register), i.e. the name and particulars of the objectors and the nature of objection,” says the ordinance.
This implies that the objections won’t negate the confirmation of the conversion but will be recorded. “We need to know whether a person converted after he or she was granted the permission,” said Awasthi.
Earlier, the Special Marriage Act had a provision of a one-month notice and inviting objections from public in case of an interfaith marriage.
A second conviction for the same offence under the new law will attract double the existing sentence of one-five years. The punishment is more severe at three to 10 years for the first offence if the victim is from a scheduled caste or tribe or if it is a case of mass conversion. A fine of Rs 5 lakh can be imposed. However, re-converting to one’s immediate previous religion won’t be considered conversion under the new law.