Religious Freedom and Personal Choices

Context: The Allahabad High Court verdict in ‘Salamat Ansari’ is a reminder of the Constitution’s most cherished values.

What did the court say?
  • Religious conversions, even when made solely for the purposes of marriage, constituted a valid exercise of a person’s liberties.
  • The High Court ruled that the freedom to live with a person of one’s choice is intrinsic to the fundamental right to life and personal liberty.
  • It held that the judgment in Noor Jahan was incorrectly delivered. Marriage is a matter of choice, and every adult woman has a fundamental right to choose her own partner.
What is the issue?
  • Legislation: Various State governments undertaking projects to outlaw what they describe pejoratively as “Love Jihad”.
  • Petitioners vs. State:
    • The petitioners had approached the High Court seeking orders to quash a First Information Report (FIR). This FIR alleged that crime was committed under Section 366 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalises the abduction of a woman with an intent to compel her to marry against her will.
    • The State argued that the partnership had no sanctity in the law, because a conversion with a singular aim of getting married was illegitimate.
What are the other related judgements?
  • Noor Jahan v. State of U.P. (2014): the High Court had held that a conversion by an individual to Islam was valid only when it was predicated on a “change of heart” and on an “honest conviction” in the tenets of the newly adopted religion.
    • Burden of proof: the High Court had ruled that the burden to prove the validity of a conversion was on the party professing the act.
  • Stainislaus v. State of Madhya Pradesh: the Court upheld, on grounds of public order, two of the earliest anti-conversion statutes in India: the Madhya Pradesh Dharma Swatantrya Adhiniyam, 1968, and the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act, 1967. These laws required that a District Magistrate be informed each time a conversion was made and prohibited any conversion that was obtained through fraud or illegal inducement.
What does the judgement signify?
  • Right to religious freedom: it is neither the province of the state nor any other individual to interfere with a person’s choice of partner or faith.
  • Right to privacy: It held that an individual’s ability to control vital aspects of her life inheres in her right to privacy. Puttaswamy judgement, has recognised that every individual possesses a guaranteed freedom of thought.
  • Right to live with dignity: It includes the preservation of decisional autonomy, on matters such as “personal intimacies, the sanctity of family life, marriage, procreation, the home, and sexual orientation”.
  • Freedom of conscience: Article 25 of the Constitution expressly protects the choices that individuals make. It guarantees to every person the freedom of conscience. The idea of protecting one’s freedom of conscience goes beyond mere considerations of religious faith.

This is high time that we need to respect people’s choices. When we fail to acknowledge and respect the most intimate and personal choices that people make,we undermine the most basic principles of dignity.


Link to our 7PM editorial of similar article (ISSUE OF INTERFAITH MARRIAGES AND LAWS IN INDIA)

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