anti-conversion laws: SC leaves Allahabad HC to deal with challenge to UP anti-conversion law

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday refused to transfer to itself and decide all petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the Uttar Pradesh government’s new anti-conversion laws, leaving the Allahabad High Court to decide the issue in the first instance.

Several petitions have been filed in the Allahabad High Court challenging the laws which bar conversion for marriage or vice versa. The state government claims that the law is essential to deal with the phenomena called love jihad, despite little statistics to back its claim.

The Allahabad High Court has, in its preliminary remarks, spoken in favour of adults being free to choose their partners and the need for the state to lay off such personal matters.

The state government told the High Court soon after that it would seek the transfer of these cases to the top court as it was dealing with similar other matters.

The top court is dealing with some writ petitions challenging similar laws elsewhere in Uttarakhand and the proposed move by other states like Haryana and MP to follow suit. But today, the court refused to transfer to itself an issue already pending before the High Court.

“If the Allahabad High Court is seized of it and we are not going to hear before it (the High Court). Why should we stop the High Court,” CJI Bobde asked senior advocate PS Narasimha.

Narasimha drew the court’s attention to the fact that the top court had already issued notices on the matter in some petitions.

“We have issued notice…(That) does not mean that the High Court cannot decide. People are making light of the High Courts these days. The High Court is a constitutional court.”

When Narasimha persisted, the bench said: “We would like to have the benefit of a High Court judgement on the issue.” The bench eventually allowed Narasimha to withdraw the plea after expressing its disinclination to transfer the pleas to itself.

The UP anti-conversion laws are controversial as they set the stage for penalising with jail terms any family member or any adult male who marries an adult woman of another religion. It is also a non-bailable offence for which those involved can be arrested by the police with a warrant.

The law was challenged on the ground that it interfered with the right to freedom of adults to choose their partners and also their right to freedom of religion. There have been several instances of misuse of the law to harass those already married.

There have also been instances in which inter-religious couples have been arrested at their marriage ceremonies prompting an uproar in civil society.

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