Six sections of a law to stop "love jihad", including one that places burden of proof on the accused, cannot be allowed to stand, the Gujarat High Court said today in an interim order, ruling the provisions could not apply to inter-faith marriages that showed no evidence of force or fraud.
Inter-faith marriages between adults exercising free consent and without allurement or cheating "cannot be termed as marriages for the purpose of unlawful conversion", the court ruled.
The court passed the interim order in response to a petition that challenged a 2021 amendment seen as violating individuals' freedom of choice and religion, and invading individuals' personal autonomy.
"... pending further hearing... (the six sections of the law) shall not operate merely because marriage is solemnised by a person of one religion with another religion without force or allurement or fraudulent means... and such marriages cannot be termed as marriages for the purpose of unlawful conversion," the judgement said, according to legal news website Live Law.
Among the sections struck down by the interim order is 6A, which says those accused of forcing a marriage for the purpose of conversion must prove otherwise - a clause that contradicts the Indian Evidence Act of 1872, which says the burden of proof lies on the complainant.
The High Court also refused to explicitly state that the struck-down provisions would apply in case of inter-faith marriages resulting forced conversions; the court only underlined its original order.
Appearing for the Gujarat government, Advocate General Kamal Trivedi said the sections were being misinterpreted, and that "only those who get married by intimidating are scared".
The Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act was amended in April as several BJP-ruled states, including Assam (where the law was announced ahead of the April-May election), Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh (which votes next year), created, or announced an intention to create, similar laws.
In December, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Chouhan said those who "do anything like 'love jihad'... will be destroyed". Before that UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath invoked "Ram naam satya" - a Hindu funeral chant - to "warn those who... play with our sisters' respect".
UP's "love jihad" ordinance, which has been invoked frequently since it was enforced in November, is among the more notable ones because of several Allahabad High Court rulings on the subject.
In one such case the court quashed an FIR against a Muslim man (accused by his father-in-law of forcing his daughter into marriage), and said the woman had the "right to live life on her terms".
"Love jihad" is a right-wing conspiracy theory that Muslim men seduce Hindu women to convert them. The theory usually ignores relationships between Hindu men and Muslim women.
The term is not recognised by the centre; the Home Ministry has said it is "not defined in law".
With input from ANI