• Author Name: Anupama Kumari Rai
  • Details:  Advocate, Bombay High Court, B.Sc, LLM

A “warning” to those who “played with the honour” of “sisters and daughters” by concealing their identities and operating secretly. If they did not mend their ways, then their “Ram Naam Satya yatra (funeral processions)” would be taken out, said Mr. Adityanath the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. 

The verdict of Mr. Adityanath is mainly based upon the recent order of Allahabad High Court where the Court dismissed a writ petition filed by a married couple seeking stay on their families from interfering in their marriage. The court observed that the Muslim-born woman converted to Hindu in June and then married as per Hindu rituals in July, clearly revealing that the conversion has taken place only for the purpose of marriage. Ruling that conversion just for the purpose of marriage is unacceptable, the High Court said it will not interfere in the matter under Article 226, dismissing the plea. In this order, the single judge bench of Justice Mahesh Chandra Tripathi also made a reference to a 2014 order by the same court that he said ‘has proceeded to observe that conversion just for the purpose of marriage is unacceptable’.

The 2014 judgement, in the case of Smt. Noor Jahan Begum @ Anjali Mishra & Anr. V. State of U.P. & Ors. also says , ‘ Thus conversion of religion to Islam, in the present set of facts, of the girls without their faith and belief in Islam and at the instance of the boys, solely for the purpose of marriage, cannot be said to be a valid conversion to Islam religion. These marriages (Nikah) are against the mandate in Sura II Ayat 221 of the Holy Quran”.

Over and above this flawed reference, upon going through the order there is an even bigger question to ask: is this decision of the high court really in accordance with the law?

The order is silent as to any other reasons why the couple should not be granted protection from coercive interference by the State or other persons? 

For better understanding let’s understand the first two concepts regarding this issue. Rights to conversion and is conversion required for solemnization of marriage? And the concept of a woman’s religion getting merged with her husband’s faith after an inter-religion marriage.

The Constitution guarantees to each individual the right freely to practise, profess and propagate religion. Choices of faith and belief as indeed choices in matters of marriage lie within an area where individual autonomy is supreme. The supreme Court in the Hadiya case held that a person’s right to choose a religion and marry is an intrinsic part of her meaningful existence. Neither the State nor “patriarchal supremacy” can interfere in her decision.

The Special Marriage Act, 1954 was enacted to provide a special form of marriage by any person in India and all Indian nationals in foreign countries irrespective of the religion either party to the marriage may profess. It is noted that there are no such requirements of conversion just for the sake of solemnization of marriage. 

“There is no law, which says that a woman loses religious identity after marrying a man from another faith… Moreover, the Special Marriage Act is there and allows two persons to marry and maintain their respective religious identities,” the bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justices A K Sikri, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan said . Then the question arises: why is conversion required for marriage? In general, Islam allows for marriage between a man and woman as “believers”. Culturally, it is accepted that marriage between a follower of islam (muslim) and a Christian or Jew does not require conversion. Traditionally, however, marriages between muslims and a follower of Hinduism or other polytheistic religions requires conversion to Islam. So again the question is why there is different rule for Hindu while Hinduism has allowances for such practice even if Hinduism considers all religions are a way to God, but there can be political differences and so marital conversion is sometimes discouraged. Throughout Hindu history, inter-religious marriages have also been a way for keeping the peace and building alliances.